Members of the UCLA women's basketball team admitted that they were nervous in the opening minutes of their first-round game against N.C. State on Sunday. The jitters were expected -- after all, No. 8 seeded UCLA had not earned an NCAA tournament bid in four years, meaning none of its current players had been there before.
The Bruins' angst showed early, as N.C. State built a nine-point lead by capitalizing on UCLA turnovers and spotty shot selection. But newcomers Jasmine Dixon and Markel Walker did not seem to be flustered by the tournament stage. The frontcourt duo combined to score 10 of UCLA's first 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting. Meanwhile, the rest of the Bruins were an anemic 1 for 13 to start.
UCLA then revved its defensive engine, started feeding the ball inside to the two and capped the first half on a 10-0 run. All of a sudden, smiles started showing up on the Bruins' faces.
"In the beginning, N.C. State got off to a lead, but we knew we had to keep our composure," Dixon said during Monday's press conference. "We just had to play our game."
Needless to say, UCLA probably doesn't have room to be nervous today when its faces No. 1 seed Nebraska (31-1) with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line. The Cornhuskers, who reeled off 30 consecutive wins before losing to Texas A&M in the Big 12 Conference tournament semifinals 10 days ago, are led by forward Kelsey Griffin, an All-American candidate that averages more than 20 points a game.
The second-round game is scheduled to tip off at 6:35 PT and will be shown on ESPN2.