A Sweet 16 dance for the Bruins

LOS ANGELES – The UCLA women’s basketball team skyrocketed through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, defeating California Baptist in an 84-55 showdown and triumphing over Creighton in a nail-biting contest 67-63.

Both games were fast-paced affairs and UCLA head coach Cori Close noted that both matchups posed significant tests for her team.

UCLA guard Charisma Osborne (20) goes to the basket against California Baptist in a first-round NCAA Women’s Tournament game at Pauley Pavilion on March 23, 2024. Photo credit: Carlos Jones/News4usonline

“These past games have brought out the best in my girls and against Creighton I felt this would be our hardest game of the bracket,” Close said. “Much love and respect for both Cal Baptist and Creighton, I feel they are so well coached and they should be extremely proud for how great they are as basketball organizations.”

UCLA sophomore forward Lauren Betts didn’t play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament but returned from injury in game two and was dominant in her showing. She notched her 12th double-double of the season, totaling 20 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore guard Kiki Rice also kept the Bluejays busy with having a game-high 24 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Coach Close attributed these impressive stats to the electric energy pulsating from the home crowd.

“The crowd carried us tonight, and they enhanced our spirits to play harder and that was key,” Close said. “Coach Flanery had an amazing gameplay and I was proud of my team for analyzing their mistakes at halftime by focusing on improving their next play speed mentality.”

In a game of twists and turns, Creighton didn’t back down at all and kept the pace for UCLA in every position. Senior guard Lauren Jensen established the Bluejays offensive charge, racking up an impressive 20 points on the scoreboard. Not far behind, Morgan Maly showcased her scoring prowess with 18 points, while Emma Ronsiek added 14 to the Bluejays’ tally.

Reflecting on the season, Jensen expressed her deep affection for the journey and conveyed immense pride in her team despite the challenging loss.

“You know, losing this one is going to sting for a while… and I may be disappointed but that’s not what’s important,” Jensen said. “I couldn’t be more proud of everyone for their hard work and I feel we need to realize how terrific we did this season.”

Leading up to this game, UCLA’s first matchup was against Cal Baptist and the Bruins had to figure out a way to adapt to the Lancer’s quick and effective offensive tempo. Once they did, UCLA never looked back as Rice scored 20 points, sophomore forward Gabriela Jaquez added 17 points and graduate student guard Charisma Osborne finished with a near triple-double with 15 points, 15 rebounds, and nine assists.

Rice explained that she knew Osborne was going to be the key that propelled them to victory tonight, emphasizing that her leadership shines consistently day in and day out.

“She is a super strong leader for this team and we all know what she is capable of,” Rice said. “She always has our back and with her on the court in any game, it always makes our lives easier.”

This showcase went right against the explosive California Baptist Lancers, as senior forward Kinsley Barrington spearheaded their offensive effort by tallying 18 points and 3 rebounds. Joining the fray, junior guard Anaiyah Tu’ua contributed 5 points and grabbed 8 rebounds, showcasing her proficiency with a 33% success rate from beyond the three-point line.

The Lancer’s came up short, yet they put out a fierce competition until late in the 3rd quarter. UCLA head coach Cori Close in a post-game interview felt that her team was prepared yet Cal Baptist was ready to adapt to UCLA’s strategic offensive play-calling.

The UCLA Bruins head to the Sweet 16 after beating Cal Baptist and Creighton University in the first two rounds of the NCAA Women’s Tournament. Photo credit: Carlos Jones/News4usonline

“This team was extremely prepared for us and it showed by how hard they played,” Close said. “They only lost three games for a reason this season, and tonight I give them much credit for the amazing season Cal Baptist had.”

Barrington also empathized that she wants everyone on the team to know that they made history with enhancing college basketball against the Bruins and that this loss is only a setback.

“While this loss is painful, I know how well our team did this past season,” Barrington said. It’s a setback, but it’s not the end. This won’t be the last time you see us in the NCAA tournament.”

UCLA will head into the MVP Arena in Albany on March 30th to face off against LSU in the NCAA Tournament’s third round. UCLA holds a 2-4 record in their all-time series with LSU, with their most recent encounter dating back to 2011.

“We’re gearing up for another tough battle, but that’s where our team thrives,” Close said. “This team was made for times like this, and they are ready for any matchup in this tournament.”

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