For the first time since 1999, the UCLA women’s basketball team is heading to the Sweet 16.
The third-seeded Bruins earned themselves a spot on Monday night, holding off a resilient South Florida team for a 72-67 win at Pauley Pavilion. UCLA never trailed, but saw a 16-point lead dwindle to as little as one.
They will take the court again on March 26 against No. 2-seeded Texas.
“This is a huge next step for our program,” said Cori Close, the Bruins’ fifth-year coach.
» Sweet 16 run marks best year of Cori Close’s UCLA tenure
USF senior Courtney Williams, the nation’s 10th-leading scorer, led the game with 29 points — but did so by taking 32 shots. She missed her first eight shots of the night, pestered by defense from UCLA’s Nirra Fields, as well as forward Monique Billings.
Sophomore point guard Jordin Canada kept UCLA ahead late, shaking off a 1-for-11 start to score 17 points in the final quarter. She sank six free throws in the final 25 seconds.
The Bruins are one of four Pac-12 teams to make the Sweet 16, joining Oregon State, Stanford and Washington.
“You really gain credibility when you go do it on the biggest stage, the NCAA Tournament,” Close said. “The Pac-12 has sort of put its money where its mouth is.”