For the first time this season, UCLA is playing for the win.
After the Bruins hoped this season to improve their own score every time they meet this year and completely ignore what their opponents were doing, the NCAA Regional is going head-to-head for the first time at Pauley Pavilion this week with three rounds and nine teams result counts. UCLA must finish in the top two in Saturday’s regional finals to advance back to the national championship for the first time since 2019. If the Bruins fall short, their season is over.
UCLA missed the cut for Nationals last season by .025, the smallest difference possible, so the Bruins will know what’s at stake when they begin regional competition in the semifinals at 7 p.m. Thursday.
“We’re already feeling the pain of that last year,” said sophomore Emma Malabuyo. “That motivates us a bit more. … So we have no regrets this week.”
Here’s what you should know about the Los Angeles Regional:
Nine teams will compete over three days of competition, with the top two advancing to the NCAA Championships taking place April 13-15 in Fort Worth. All regional rounds will be broadcast on ESPN+.
Brigham Young University and Boise State faced off in a first round match Wednesday, with the Broncos advancing to the semifinals against No. 4 UCLA, No. 14 Missouri and Stanford at 7 p.m. Thursday. No. 5 Utah, No. 12 Auburn, Southern Utah and Washington will face off in the first semifinals on Thursday at 2:00 p.m. with the top two teams from each quad progressing to the regional finals on Saturday at 5:00 p.m. Scores for the finals will reset and the top two teams will advance to the national championship along with the top individual all-rounders and event finishers who are not on the qualifying teams.
This format has been used since 2019, resulting in a smaller national championship meeting with only eight teams compared to 12.
The smaller field coincided with the longest UCLA national drought in program history. But the Bruins are poised to return to the Championship meeting for the first time since 2019.
UCLA once again asserted itself as a national contender behind its vintage floor rotation, continuing the program’s proud legacy at the event. Led by Pac-12 floor co-champ Jordan Chiles, the Bruins rank first in the nation in floor exercise.
The rotation order is decided by a blind draw. The Bruins begin the competition on beam, then rotate to floor and bars before finishing on vault, which is their weakest event. Only two of UCLA’s six vaulters have a starting value of 10, limiting the team’s scoring potential.
The third time could be the stimulus for UCLA against Utah this year. The Utes won a doubles meet in Utah on February 3 and narrowly won the Pac-12 championship on March 18 at the expense of UCLA. Though the Bruins finished floored with 49.6, which was equal for the meeting’s highest event score, they finished 0.075 points behind Utah, which won its third straight conference title.
Utah ranks first in the country on the bar, led by Maile O’Keefe and Kara Eaker, who rank first and fourth at the event, respectively. Utah is the only program in the country to qualify for every national championship, 46 consecutive appearances.
UCLA has history with Missouri. The Tigers kept the Bruins out of the national championship meet last year by finishing second in the regional finals. That year, Jocelyn Moore and Helen Hu received regular-season All-American honors on Vault and Beam, respectively.
Auburn, led by Olympic gold medalist Suni Lee, had its best season in school history last year with a run to the NCAA Finals and finishing fourth. Despite missing the last three encounters with a non-gymnastic health issue, Lee still earned All-American honors on parallel bars and all-around, while Derrian Gobourne and Cassie Stevens were named All-Americans on floor and vault, respectively. Gobourne, whose popular floor routine is an ode to HBCUs this season, won the SEC Specialist of the Year award for the third straight year.
The region’s biggest name may not compete as Lee is day-to-day with her injury. Auburn head coach Jeff Graba told reporters this week. Lee’s Olympic teammate Grace McCallum could also miss the meeting. The Utah student has not competed since her knee injury on Feb. 11.
But there is still Olympic influence in the region with Chiles, the UCLA Olympic silver medalist, and Amelie Morgan of Utah, who helped Britain to the bronze medal in Tokyo.
Chiles owns the nation’s best all-around score this season and ranks second in the country, while UCLA freshman Selena Harris is sixth. Harris was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, and the two became the first teammates to each earn the maximum five All-Pac-12 honors in the same season.
Source : www.latimes.com