For the first time this season, UCLA is playing to win.
The Bruins were hoping to improve their scoring this season, regardless of what their opponents did, as this week marks the first time the three-round, nine-team NCAA regional has gone head-to-head at Pauley Pavilion. the result matters. UCLA must finish in the top two in Saturday’s regional final to advance to the national tournament for the first time since 2019. If the Bruins come up short, his season is over.
UCLA missed nationals by .025 last season, the narrowest possible margin, so the Bruins know what’s at stake when Thursday’s semifinals begin at 7 p.m.
“We already feel the pain of it last year,” said sophomore Emma Malabuyo. “That motivates us a little more. … That’s why, this week, we won’t regret it.”
Here’s what you need to know about the Los Angeles area:
UCLA head coach Janelle McDonald cheers on Margzetta Frazier during a meeting Jan. 29 in Los Angeles.
(Kyusung Gong/Associated Press)
Nine teams compete over three days of competition, with the top two advancing to the NCAA tournament, which will be held April 13-15 in Fort Worth. All regional rounds will be broadcast on ESPN+.
Brigham Young University and Boise State face off in a first-round doubleheader on Wednesday, and the Broncos host No. 4 UCLA at No. 14 on Thursday at 7 p.m. They went against Missouri and Stanford. No. 5 Utah, No. 12 Auburn, Southern Utah and Washington will compete in the first semifinal Thursday at 2 p.m., and the top two teams from each of the foursomes will advance to the regional finals Saturday at 5 p.m. Scores are reset for the finals and the top two teams advance to the national championship, along with qualifiers in the overall and individual events not in the non-qualifying teams.
This format has been used since 2019, resulting in a smaller national tournament with eight teams, compared to 12.
Jordan Chiles and Selena Harris celebrate after Harris competes in the floor exercise at Pauley Pavilion on February 11.
(Katharine Lotze/Getty Images)
The smallest field match coincided with UCLA’s longest drought in program history. But the Bruins are poised to return to the championship game for the first time since 2019.
UCLA reasserted itself as a national contender behind the floor rotation of its era, which continues the program’s proud heritage in the event. Led by co-Pac-12 floor champion Jordan Chiles, the Bruins are ranked No. 1 in the country on floor exercise.
With the order of rotation decided by a blind draw, the Bruins begin competition on beam, then rotate to floor and bars before finishing on vault, their weakest event. Only two of UCLA’s six hitters have a starting value of 10, limiting the team’s scoring potential.
Utah gymnast Maile O’Keefe performs her floor routine during a meet on Jan. 6 in Salt Lake City.
(Tyler Tate/Associated Press)
The third time could be the charm for UCLA against Utah this year. The Utes won a dual meet at Utah on February 3 and claimed the Pac-12 championship on March 18 at the expense of UCLA. Although the Bruins finished with a 49.6, which was tied for the top score in events per game, they finished 0.075 points behind Utah, which won its third straight conference title.
Utah is ranked No. 1 in the country on beam, led by Maile O’Keefe and Kara Eaker, who placed first and fourth, respectively, in the event. Utah is the only program in the country to qualify for every national championship, making 46 consecutive appearances.
Missouri’s Jocelyn Moore competes in a meet on February 3 in Columbia, Mo.
(Colin E. Braley/Associated Press)
UCLA has a history with Missouri. The Tigers knocked the Bruins out of the national tournament last year by finishing second in the regional final. This year, Jocelyn Moore and Helen Hu earned regular season All-American honors on vault and beam, respectively.
Auburn, led by Olympic gold medalist Suni Lee, had the best season in school history last year with a run to the NCAA finals and a fourth-place finish. Despite missing the last three meets with a non-gymnastic health issue, Leek earned All-American honors on bars and all-around, with Derrian Gobourne and Cassie Stevens named All-Americans on floor and vault, respectively. Gobourne, whose popular floor routine this season is an ode to HBCUs, earned his third SEC specialist of the year honor.
Auburn star and Olympic gold medalist Suni Lee could miss NCAA regional competition due to injury.
(Gregory Bull/Associated Press)
The biggest name in the region may not compete because Lee is day-to-day with his injury, Auburn coach Jeff Graba told reporters this week. Lee’s Olympic teammate Grace McCallum may also miss the meet. The Utah sophomore has not competed since injuring his knee on Feb. 11.
But there is still Olympic influence in the region with Chiles, an Olympic silver medalist at UCLA, and Utah’s Amelie Morgan, who helped Great Britain to a bronze medal in Tokyo.
Chiles is the nation’s top scorer this season and is tied for second in the country with UCLA student Selena Harris in sixth. Harris was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and the pair became the first teammates to earn All-Pac-12 honors in the same season.