The No. 3 seeded Wisconsin Badgers’ (10-0-1 Big Ten, 16-4-6 overall) NCAA tournament run came to an end this Sunday with a loss to the No. 2 seed UCLA Bruins (8-3-0 Pac-12, 17-4-1 overall) in the Sweet Sixteen. This was the second meeting between the two sides this year, both of which UCLA emerged as the victors by scores of 1-0, and 2-0 respectively.
The Badgers began the match with a high press, but were unable to disrupt UCLA’s buildup with much effect. Gradually, their line of confrontation retreated as they shifted into a more compact defensive shape. Although this limited chances for the Bruins in the attacking third, it became much more difficult for the Badgers to hold onto the ball once they had won it. This allowed the Bruins to dominate possession, which they were perfectly happy to do.
The UCLA backline and midfield patiently probed at the Badgers, moving the ball from side to side until an opportunity presented itself. This patience nearly paid off for the Bruins in the 26th minute as midfielder Jessie Flemming had a free header in the Wisconsin 18-yard box. Thankfully for the Badgers, she was unable to direct it on frame.
Having already dodged one bullet, the Badgers came close to conceding a goal once again ten minutes later. Bruins forward Ashley Sanchez dribbled her way into the Badgers box, cutting inside on her right foot with an eye on the bottom right corner, but scuffed the shot wide, wasting a golden opportunity to take the lead.
Although the two sides were level at half, the Bruins looked much more dangerous on attack, outshooting the Badgers 5-1, and looked all the more likely to break the deadlock in the second period.
It only took three minutes after the start of the second half for the Bruins to score what turned out to be the winning goal. The Badgers backline was unable to clear a bouncing ball in their 18-yard box, allowing UCLA midfielder Mia Fishel to gain possession, power her way through three Wisconsin defenders and poke the ball past junior goalkeeper Jordan Bloomer.
UCLA doubled their lead four minutes later through a wonderful free kick from Viviana Villacorta. Her left-footed effort rocketed into the top left corner past the outstretched arms of Jordan Bloomer.
Though the Badgers began to push more numbers up in the match’s latter stages, they only managed two shots in the second half, one from junior forward Cammie Murtha and the other from freshman defender Macy Monticello, neither of which were on target.
They fought hard until the finish but were unable to get it done against an impressive UCLA side that will face No. 1 seed Florida State in the quarterfinals.