NCAA Tournament – First Round Preview – (2) UCLA vs San Diego State

10:00 PM – (2) UCLA vs San Diego State

Same matchup, different year, and much different odds. Last season, these two met in the Sweet Sixteen in San Diego, where UCLA was the underdog in terms of seed but emerged with a 3-0 win before falling in the Elite Eight to Stanford. This season? Anything but a dominant win for the Bruins in the opening round against SDSU would be considered an upset, as the Westwood side enter on the shortlist of national title favorites, while the Aztecs needed to win the Mountain West Tournament to get back into the field of sixty-four. Amanda Cromwell’s first season as UCLA boss has gone swimmingly for the most part. UCLA’s lost just once, against potential Elite Eight opponent North Carolina, and the hiccups, to Utah and Washington in the league, have been relatively minor. UCLA beat Stanford, got their Pac-12 crown back, but are also probably a little sore after not getting a #1 seed most felt they deserved. UCLA’s midfield of Sarah Killion, Jenna Richmond, and Samantha Mewis is right up there with Notre Dame’s midfield trio as the best in the nation, and they have a premier predator to feed in Darian Jenkins, who was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year earlier in the week. Jenkins has formed a good partnership with Taylor Smith, who found her feet as a sophomore after a slightly disappointing rookie season, adding ten assists to go with Jenkins’ eleven goals on just thirty-four shots. Oh, and did I mention this team has one of the nation’s best defenses too? They’ve given up just seven goals all season and have a star of the present in Abby Dahlkemper and a star of the future in rookie Gabbi Miranda. Add in one of the nation’s best goalkeepers in Katelyn Rowland, and it’s easy to see why the Bruins are picked by many to make it to Cary this season. There’s little reason to think that UCLA isn’t going to dominate SDSU as they did in a 2-0 regular season win. A potential Sweet Sixteen matchup with nemesis Stanford next Sunday could be in the cards, but the real dragon to slay may be the week after if North Carolina makes it through unscathed. UCLA was dominated by UNC earlier this season, and they’ll have to show great improvement against the Heels to make it to the last four. You wouldn’t put it past this side though, and they have an excellent chance of winning it all.

Opponents San Diego State were a shadow of the team that was a contender to reach the Final Four last year. They were still plenty good enough to win the Mountain West with ease though, completing the double by beating Boise State in the conference tournament. Still, the Aztecs didn’t do much in non-conference play to make you believe this squad has a shot in hell of beating the Bruins in their second meeting this season. They were dominated by most of their better opposition, including in the aforementioned loss to UCLA. The Aztecs also had some weird non-conference results as well, getting stomped by USC and drawing with Houston of all teams. The Aztecs aren’t without talent. Forward Hannah Keane has proven to be a capable replacement for Megan Jurado in leading the line with twelve goals, though she also has proven to have a very quick trigger, taking ninety shots this season. Victoria Barba also has a bag of tricks, but she could be crowded out by the tenacious UCLA defense. Defensively, SDSU was good in the league and not so good out of it. Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Haley Palmer is the club’s best player but has a whale of a task in trying to slow down Jenkins. It almost worked in a way since Jenkins had just one shot on goal in the first meaning. Add in fellow backline stalwart Carli Johnson, and you’ve got to believe San Diego State isn’t going to get embarrassed at least. But SDSU still gave up multiple goals to almost all of their big name non-conference opposition, and despite Keane’s talent, SDSU doesn’t have enough to win a high scoring game. They probably don’t have enough to win in a low scoring game against the Bruins either, though the Aztecs do come into this one in pretty good form.

Prediction: UCLA 3 – 0 San Diego State

San Diego State – First Round
UCLA Tournament Prediction – Elite Eight

This entry was posted in NCAA Women's Soccer on by Chris Henderson.

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