Women's NCAAs: Arizona Survives Free Fall, Unusual Playoff
Bianca Pagdanganan kept Arizona's season alive (Golf Channel screenshot)
Bianca Pagdanganan kept Arizona's season alive (Golf Channel screenshot)

STILLWATER, OK (May 21, 2018) – Tears poured down Arizona head coach Laura Ianello’s face beside the 18th green Monday afternoon when Wildcat junior Bianca Pagdanganan poured in an eleventh-hour eagle putt on the 72nd hole of stroke play. Arizona was diving down the team leaderboard, and Pagdanganan effectively hit the brakes.

Pagdanganan deftly struck the 25-foot left-breaking putt and put Arizona in a team playoff with Baylor for the final spot on the match-play bracket. Both teams finished 72 holes at 33 over.

As Pagdanganan walked off the green, the team chanted “M-V-P” and soon after, the tears started flowing. Baylor and Arizona players were paired in twosomes a few minutes later and were spread out on Nos. 10, 11, 12, 13 and 18 for a play-five-count-four team playoff. Because they were scattered around different holes, only relation to par mattered. It was every woman for herself because communication between holes was so sparse.

Both teams played the first playoff round in even par, but another birdie from Pagdanganan, plus a birdie from first-semester freshman Yu-Sang Hou, put Arizona onto the bracket.

“It was a mix of emotions,” Pagdanganan said of the playoff. “It was overwhelming, it was overflowing.”

Related: The Bond is Strong for Arizona at the Women's NCAAs

Arizona players fed off Pagdanganan after a tough round of 17-over 304 – their worst round of the week. Ianello tried to help them rally.

“If I’d have told you today we had a chance to get into match play, would you have taken it?” she asked them.

Arizona will meet top-seeded UCLA in the match-play quarterfinals. The Bruins finished 72 holes tied with Alabama at 9-over 1,161, but UCLA’s cumulative non-counting score was lower. That earned UCLA the top seed.

Alabama will meet No. 7-seeded Kent State. It’s the first time the Crimson Tide has gotten into match play, so there’s considerable pride to play for.

Leads and deficits disappear so quickly in college golf. That was most evident in this final round of this national-championship stroke play. With a tournament – or match play – on the line, coaching becomes a game of what to tell your players.

Kent State head coach Greg Robertson knows that you can tell them too much. As his young team made their way through Nos. 5 to 9 to end their round (Kent State started on No. 10), the expectations for every player were only to play hard.

“We don’t talk to them about score,” Robertson said. “If they know, what are they going to do, try harder?”

Kent State, trying for its second consecutive playoff berth, hovered within shots of the cutline all day. They were one of the last teams off the course, but at 30-over for 72 holes, finished three shots clear of the eighth position. Kent State went 3 over on No. 5, the No. 3 handicap hole, then held steady in the closing holes. They were 2 over coming in.

Robertson and assistant coach Maddi Swaney follow a game plan that puts one of them with a specific player for the whole round and leaves the other to float. Robertson spent the past two days with Karoline Stormo after the sophomore posted 90 in the second round. She followed it up with rounds of 71-75, both of which counted toward the team score.

“It wasn’t like you felt she was out of it,” Robertson said of that round.

Robertson likes how this course sets up for his team, a squad of long hitters.

“That’s a key component, if you can have shorter clubs into these greens, it certainly helps,” he said. “If we drive the ball well like we normally do, I think we can be OK.”

While Kent State hung onto its position in the final holes, Arkansas ultimately faded away. The Razorbacks started a change that was too little too late. Arkansas was behind the eight-ball from Day 1 after coming out of the gate with 20-over 308, and even back-to-back closing rounds of 1 over couldn’t save them.

“We played like Arkansas today,” head coach Shauna Estes-Taylor said with pride.

With a birdie from Dylan Kim, Arkansas’ final player to finish, Arkansas could have advanced. Kim gave it a good run from behind the hole, but it missed by inches.

“All we could do is give her an opportunity to make birdie,” said Estes-Taylor.

Match-Play Quarterfinals

UCLA (No. 1) vs. Arizona (No. 8)
Alabama (No. 2) vs. Kent State (No. 7)
USC (No. 3) vs. Duke (No. 6)
Northwestern (No. 4) vs. Stanford (No. 5)

Results: NCAA Division I Women's Championship
1COJennifer KupchoDenver, CO150065-74-70-71=280
T2CAAndrea LeeHermosa Beach, CA100077-69-71-65=282
T2PhilippinesBianca PagdangananPhilippines100071-68-71-72=282
4TXCheyenne KnightAledo, TX70070-69-70-74=283
T5SwitzerlandMorgane MetrauxSwitzerland70070-72-74-68=284

View full results for NCAA Division I Women's Championship

ABOUT THE NCAA Division I Women's Championship

24 teams and 12 individuals not on a qualifying team make up the field for the championship of NCAA Division I women's golf.

After 72 holes of stroke play, the individual champion is crowned, and the low 8 teams advance to match play to determine the team champion.

View Complete Tournament Information

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