LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Tennessee Tech stood toe-to-toe with 22nd ranked UCLA Sunday afternoon, and didn't blink. In fact, the Golden Eagles outscored the Bruins by a point in the second half.
However, UCLA used a solid defensive game in the first half to establish a comfortable 23-point lead, and the Bruins staved off Tech's second-half play to claim a 74-52 win in a winner's bracket contest of the Preseason Women's National Invitation Tournament.
The Golden Eagles (1-1) will now await instructions from the WNIT about who and where they will play next, a decision that will be announced Monday. Tech could play either at home or on the road at Terre Haute, Ind., or Chattanooga. The three possible opponents for a Friday night game include Chattanooga, Indiana State and Long Island.
Check TTUsports.com for details on the location and opponent, as well as any ticket information.
On Sunday, UCLA combined size and quickness to limit Tech to 25 percent shooting in the first half, and opened a 43-20 lead at the intermission. The Bruins hit 51.6 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes, many of their shots coming from close range.
Tech turned those numbers around in the second half, exerting greater defensive pressure and matching the uptempo play of the home team. Tech shot 39.3 percent in the second half and held UCLA to 33 percent accuracy.
The big difference came on the boards, where UCLA owned a 49-35 advantage in rebounds including 19 offensive rebounds. The Bruins held a 17-9 edge in second-chance points. UCLA also owned an 18-0 advantage in points generated by the fast break.
Senior Rebekah Gardner paced UCLA with 21 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals and a blocked shot. Atonye Nyingifa also had a double-double with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Point guard Thea Lemberger also notched double digits with 12 points, hitting 2-for-2 from long range for UCLA's only 3-pointers of the game.
Tech had two players in double figures, led by senior Tacarra Hayes with 13 points. She also had four rebounds and three assists. Redshirt freshman Candace Parson came off the bench to add 10 points and four rebounds. Kellie Cook, who lit up the scoreboard Friday night at East Tennessee with nine 3-pointers and 36 points, scored nine points, four rebounds and two of Tech's three steals.
The Bruins raced out to a 12-2 lead in the first five minutes as Tech's only points came at the free throw line. The Golden Eagles were 1-for-10 from the field to open the game. Kellie Cook hit a 3-pointer and two free throws to slice the difference to five points, 12-7, but Tech never got that close again.
After keeping the margin within 11 points for the next eight minutes, UCLA found a groove with seven minutes to play in the half and expanded their lead to 20 with a 13-3 run. Gardner scored eight points in that stretch.
In the second half, Tech got the margin down to 16 points at one point and UCLA built it back to 29 for its largest lead, 74-45. The Golden Eagles scored the final seven points of the game and held UCLA scoreless for the final 4:45.