There's pulling a rabbit out of a hat, and then there's what UCLA just did.
No. 1-seed UCLA captured its second national title Monday night, beating second-seeded North Carolina 3-2 in overtime, avenging the 2000 championship game. North Carolina dominated the first half but went into halftime tied. UCLA blitzed the Tar Heels throughout the second half, and scored with 17 seconds left in regulation to force overtime.
Only UCLA came close to scoring in overtime, but the Bruins had to wait until midway through the second overtime to get a look at the net. The first required Video Assistant Referee to confirm that the Tar Heels had blocked a shot from Reilyn Turner. But when Maricarmen Reyes one-touched a deflected save back at the net, no replay was needed: the Bruins were ahead 3-2, with only 3:20 left to play.
UCLA needed to make some adjustments at halftime, and it didn't take long for it to make clear that adjustments had been made. The Bruins took only minutes to reel off a pair of quality transition shots from Sunshine Fontes. And they were able to get back into attacking form after Avery Patterson's goal, outshooting North Carolina 11-4 through the end of regulation. Winger Lexi Wright found the back of the net in the 79th minute. With the Tar Heels up 2-1, it seemed that was only enough to make the final minutes a bit more suspenseful.
But UCLA never let up. And with just 30 seconds left, Ally Lemos served a perfect corner - it could've been a direct score, but Turner headed it in from the far post just for good measure.
UCLA's second-half offensive barrage only allowed a few breaks for North Carolina, but the Tar Heels made the most of them. In the 58th minute, they pushed an interception into a counter, got a crosser from Emily Moxley down the right wing, and the Bruins couldn't keep everyone marked. Patterson got inside her defender for a free header to open the scoring.
Just for good measure, the Tar Heels repeated the process in the 74th minute, but with Libby Moore serving the crosser. As if it was earning karmic justice for getting to halftime tied, UCLA was down 2-0 despite having controlled most of the second half.
In stark contrast to their semifinal win over Alabama, the Bruins were pushed onto their heels to start. North Carolina dominated possession over the first 35 minutes through tackling and intercepting in the midfield. The Tar Heels' midfielders pressed better than the Bruins, and the North Carolina back line consistently cut off UCLA's passing angles in transition. The Tar Heels never got too close to scoring: North Carolina was held to just three shots on goal, all low-percentage shots right at goalie Lauren Brzykcy.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.