– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — The mix of tension, drama and highly-skilled players rising to the occasion when their teams need it the most is the hallmark of many NCAA Tournament games that continue to add to the gravitational pull that March Madness has with many across the world, and that alchemy was encapsulated with one of the two games in College Park on Saturday afternoon.
Three blue bloods of the sport and one upstart program gathered at the XFINITY Center for the East Region’s first round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, and two of those schools, the Tennessee Lady Vols and UCLA Bruins, waged a dramatic battle won by the Bruins, who used a 10-0 run late in the fourth quarter to pull away with an 89-77 victory to set-up a second-round matchup with the host Maryland Terrapins on Monday night.
Michaela Onyenwere UCLA with 22 points and 15 rebounds as the sixth-seeded Bruins jumped on the Lady Vols, making their 38th consecutive appearance in the Big Dance, by doubling up Tennessee in the first 10 minutes for a 28-14 lead. UCLA’s lead in the quarter was as many as 17 as it took 10 more shots from the field than its opponent while shooting 50 percent (10-for-20).
Tennessee, the No. 11 seed who barely saw its record of appearing in every NCAA Tournament continue after a subpar season, clawed its way back into the game and then clearly stole the momentum away from the Bruins in the third quarter. The Lady Vols shot 67 percent (10-for-15) in the period while holding the Bruins to 5-for-21 shooting, cutting UCLA’s lead to four to begin the final quarter.
The Lady Vols took their first lead of the game on a layup by Kasiyahna Kushkituah at the 8:49 mark of the fourth quarter, 59-58, and the teams exchanged leads over the next few minutes before the Bruins took control after the game’s last tie at 70-70 with 3:34 left. Onyenwere hit a layup to give the Bruins the lead for good before Kennedy Burke had back-to-back layup to extend UCLA’s lead to six. Two free throws from Japreece Dean and another layup from Onyewere capped the 10-0 that put the game away for UCLA.
In the session’s first game, the No. 3 seed Terrapins smothered the offense of the No. 14 seed Radford Highlanders, the winners of the Big South Conference, on their way to a 73-51 victory. One game after allowing 90 points to Iowa in losing the Big Ten Tournament title game, the Terrapins held the Highlanders to 29.7 percent shooting, forced 17 turnovers and had 11 steals in the contest.
Four players scored in double figures for the Terrapins, led by Taylor Mikesell’s 16 points. Kalia Charled had 14 points and nine rebounds, Stephanie Jones had 12 points and six-foot-five freshman Shakira Austin had 11 points, nine rebounds and four steals.
Destinee Walker led the Highlanders with 15 points as Radford saw its 18-game winning streak come to an end.
Monday’s matchup between UCLA and Maryland happens to be a rematch of the 1978 AIAW Championship game, the precursor to the NCAA Women’s Tournament. The Bruins, led by Hall of Famer and basketball legend Ann Meyers (20 points, 10 rebounds), won their only championship with a 90-74 victory.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Saturday afternoon’s games, with all photos taken by DC-area photographer Yusuf Abdullah. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 26 pictures in total.