Texas and UCLA look to return to the top in Bridgeport Regional

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – For years, Texas and UCLA were synonymous with success in women’s college basketball. However, recent years brought hard times to the storied programs. Under the guidance of Karen Aston and Cori Close the teams are back among the elite and  in the Sweet Sixteen, playing each other this afternoon in the Bridgeport Regional of the 2016 NCAA tournament.

“I think it is important to be able to handle the highs and lows and move on to the next thing, which this team has been much more mature about,” Aston said of the Longhorns. “Each year they have learned a little bit more about what it takes to compete at the next level.”

“I think our team is in a great spot,” Close said of the Bruins. “We’re excited, we feel we’re healthy pretty much, I think we are hungry.”

Snior center Imani Boyette leads Texas. She is a dominating defensive presence at 6-7 who was a part of last year’s team that fell to Connecticut in the Sweet 16 This year, the Longhorns are better prepared for the competition.

“I think last year we had to fly to both sides of the coast because we didn’t really take care of our work during the regular season,” Boyette said. “I think this year we stayed consistent and put ourselves in a better position to succeed, and we did that by being able to play at home.”

UCLA missed the NCAA tournament last year, but used a championship run in the WNIT as a springboard to this season. They are a guard-oriented team, led by sensational point guard Jordin Canada. Canada, coincidentally, played high school ball with Boyette.

“Winning those last six games in the WNIT definitely helpes us in the offseason and helped us work on our chemistry,” Canada explained. “Playing in the number one RPI conference (the Pac-12) with so many great players and great teams and just being able to play against them and battle against them, its helped us throughout this whole run.”

Both coaches know advancing will not be easy, and give credit for the job done by their opposing coach.

“I really give Karen so much credit,” Close said, “They play so hard and so physical on a consistent basis.”

Aston said UCLA “present a lot of challenges.”

“They can score the basketball in a lot of different ways,” Aston said. “They challenge you, because they go down hill so much. So they’re constantly challenging your ability to guard the basketball.”

The winner will play the victor of the early game between UConn and Mississippi State on Monday night.

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