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By Bill Seals
Sports Reporter 

UCLA is eliminated in the Sweet Sixteen by LSU

 

April 11, 2024

The great UCLA center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar once said, "You won't win until you learn how to lose. I don't like to do it, to lose, but I can stand it. Along with everything else, you have to acquire the ability to accept defeat. No one makes it without stumbling." Abdul-Jabbar won three national championships at UCLA and six NBA Championships. A lesson the UCLA Bruins women's basketball team will need to learn.

The LSU Tigers defeated the UCLA Bruins in a Sweet Sixteen matchup, 78-69, ending the Bruins season and their hopes of a Final Four appearance and a national championship. The two teams went back-and-forth, with the Bruins leading 67-64 after a basket from forward Gabriela Jaquez with just 2:51 remaining in the game. But that is where the championship experience of the Tigers came into play.

The Tigers, the 2022-2023 national champions, showed the mental toughness that a team must have in critical late game situations. The Bruins did not. The Tigers outscored the Bruins 14-2 over the last 2:51 of the game to defeat the Bruins and move on to the Elite Eight. The Bruins missed their final eight shots and two of four free throws. On defense, they were late on rotations and help. They got out of sync on offense and their inexperience showed in the end. The Bruins finished the season at 27-7. But it was a fun postseason ride while it lasted.

In the first weekend of NCAA Tournament college basketball action, the UCLA Bruins women's basketball team defeated California Baptist University (CBU) Lancers, 84-55 on Saturday, March 23rd at Pauley Pavilion and followed that up with a come-from-behind 67-63 victory over the Creighton University Bluejays in second round action at Pauley Pavilion on Monday, March 25th.

The victories advanced the Bruins to the Sweet Sixteen for the second season in a row. The two victories gave the 2nd seeded Bruins 27 wins on the season. CBU, the 15th seeded team in the region, finished the season at 28-4. The 7th seeded Creighton Blue Jays finished the season with a record of 26-6.

In the first-round game, the Bruins never trailed against CBU, but the Lancers did cut the Bruins lead to 24-21 with 2:19 remaining in the second quarter. The Bruins called a timeout and came back to close the quarter with a 10-1 run to take a 34-22 halftime lead. The Bruins extended the lead to 19 after three quarters and cruised to a 29-point win in the end.

CBU sold over 1,000 tickets for the game and brought their cheer team for the nationally televised game on ESPN2. The attendance for the game was 8,841, with what seemed like a partisan CBU crowd at times. The infusion of enthusiastic CBU fans created what UCLA head coach Cori Close called an atmosphere that was "electric and fun." Star guard Kiki Rice added that, "they definitely brought a lot of fans and that made it a great environment."

Rice led the Bruins in scoring against CBU with 20 points. Jaquez, starting in place of injured star center Lauren Betts, added 19 points. Senior guard Charisma Osborne had 15 points, 15 rebounds, and nine assists in the game, falling one assist short of a triple double. Even without the 6-foot-7 Betts, the Bruins were too big inside for the Lancers, outrebounding CBU 50-30 and blocking six shots.

The win over Creighton in the second round was much tougher. The Bluejays held a 44-34 lead at the 8:19 mark of the third quarter, but a Bruins rally tied the score at 52-52 at the end of third quarter. The Bruins defense really tightened in the third and fourth quarters, making it really difficult for the Bluejays to get many clean looks in the second half.

The Bluejays were led by their three first-team All-Big East seniors in the game. Guard Lauren Jensen scored 20 points, forward Morgan Maly had 18 points, and forward Emma Ronsiek added 14 points. But it was not enough.

Rice carried the Bruins in the second half and led the team in scoring with 24 points. Betts returned to add 20 points and 10 rebounds. Jaquez came off the bench to contribute 8 points and 11 rebounds. The Bruins were once again too much on the boards for the opposition, outrebounding the Bluejays 40-22.

The attendance for the Monday evening game against Creighton was 7,839 and Coach Close was grateful for the fan support and indicated that the attendance is an indication of the growth and support of women's sports in Southern California.

"I don't know what there was, but we had almost 9,000 the first night and we had almost 8,000 on a Monday night at 5:30," Close said. "Women's sports is here. It's doing something. Southern California basketball for women is amazing and get on board. It's a growth stock, people. Like you better get in now because it is spectacular. But I am so proud that Southern Cal is coming out to support these great players. Their working their tails off."

Close added that, "This is a special time in Southern California women's basketball. And really thankful to you all that are telling these stories, creating the buzz. This is a culmination of your work, as well as it is ours. And so, we've got to keep this thing going because these are two really young teams, and this is something that we have a really special trail to blaze over the next several years. Thank you all for being here, we really appreciate you."

There should be a buzz for the UCLA women's basketball team. This is a basketball team with a classy coach and some of the best talent in the nation. Betts, Rice, and Jaquez were McDonald's All-Americans in the Class of 2022. The Bruins have three five-star recruits coming in the 2024 recruiting class. UCLA will have a total of six McDonald's All-Americans on the roster next season.

But they will need to learn the lessons that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar learned in his career. Losing is not fun but they need to learn from it. Get better on defense and do a better job of executing the offense when the game is on the line. The talent is there to get to the Final Four and win a national championship.

 

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