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    NCAA Tournament: UCLA women rally past Creighton to reach Sweet 16
    • March 26, 2024

    LOS ANGELES — The fourth quarter made all the difference for the UCLA women’s basketball team on Monday night.

    Kiki Rice scored 24 points, Lauren Betts had 20 points and 10 rebounds and second-seeded UCLA rallied in the second half for a 67-63 victory over seventh-seeded Creighton in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Monday night at Pauley Pavilion.

    “It was just finding a way,” Rice told reporters after the game. “Take it possession by possession, get a stop and get a score. That’s what we did in the second half. It was just not letting the deficit at halftime take away from our focus and what we needed to execute.”

    The Bruins (27-6) trailed by 10 points in the third quarter but outscored the Bluejays 33-21 in the second half to secure the win. UCLA will face third-seeded defending national champion LSU in a regional semifinal on Saturday afternoon in Albany, New York. Top-seeded Iowa and fifth-seeded Colorado are in the other semi.

    This is the second consecutive trip to the Sweet 16 for the Bruins after they reached that round a year ago before losing to South Carolina.

    Betts, the Bruins’ 6-foot-7 sophomore center, returned to the court after missing the Bruins’ first-round victory over California Baptist with an undisclosed injury.

    Rice scored 17 of her 24 points after halftime and Gabriela Jaquez added eight points to go with 11 rebounds for UCLA.

    Creighton (26-6) led 44-34 early in the second half before UCLA fought back. The Bruins got back into the game with a 20-7 run that included 11 points by Rice.

    “At this point this season, there’s one game and you’re out,” Rice said. “So I just knew that I needed to do whatever I had to do to help my team win.”

    The game was tied at 56-all after three quarters but UCLA turned up the defensive intensity and held Creighton scoreless for more than four minutes to begin the fourth quarter while putting together a 7-0 run to surge to a 63-56 advantage on a reverse layup by Rice.

    The Bruins’ seven-point lead was shaved to two in the final minutes, but Charisma Osborne drove into the lane for a floater that put the Bruins ahead 67-63 with 1:27 left. The teams then traded empty possessions before UCLA’s Angela Dugalić blocked a Creighton layup and the Bruins forced a jump ball with 3.6 seconds left that gave them possession.

    The experience of Creighton’s five senior starters allowed the Bluejays to play in transition and get out front early. UCLA didn’t take its first lead of the game until Rice sank two free throws and a 3-pointer after that with 4:05 left in the first quarter.

    The Bruins led 11-10, but only briefly, and scored most of their points on lay-ins and putbacks by Betts. She scored 12 points in the first quarter.

    UCLA struggled with Creighton’s off ball screens and transition game during the first half. Creighton went on an 8-0 scoring run sparked by Morgan Maly to start the second quarter, which forced UCLA to call a timeout. Rice scored on a layup coming out of the break and Osborne hit a corner 3-pointer, but the Bluejays continued to shoot with no hesitation to maintain their advantage.

    Creighton, which came into the game as the No. 12 team in the nation in terms of 3-pointers per game, shot 7 for 16 shots from behind the arc against the Bruins.

    “They’re a fantastic 3-point shooting team that gets contested threes and open threes,” Rice said. “So we knew we had to really run them off the line.”

    Jaquez showed her gritty side when she hit two shots in a row with under two minutes until halftime to cut the deficit to eight points. Creighton stayed the course to head into the break with a 42-24 advantage.

    “These types of games show you who loves to compete,” Close said, “and Gabriela Jaquez loves to compete.”

    UCLA locked in on defense in the third quarter and made shots fall for themselves. Brown jumped up for a block to force a turnover and Jaquez went in for a layup as the Bruins scored six straight points.

    “I thought Cam was huge,” coach Cori Close said. “(We have the) ability to go offense-defense with her because she’s such an anchor for us defensively. Holding them to 21 points in the second half was truly remarkable.”

    The Bruins forced Maly to miss a 3-point attempt, then Rice tossed a pass to Betts for a layup and a 50-50 tie. UCLA forced Creighton to miss more shots while rebounding and maintaining possession for as long as possible.

    Rice continued her takeover and dribbled through the paint for a layup and made two free throws after to bring the score to 54-51. Lauren Jensen hit a 3-pointer for Creighton to tie the score heading into the final quarter.

    Creighton, once fearless, was tentative in the waning minutes of the game. The Bluejays shot 13 for 22 from the field in the first half but only 9 for 28 in the third and fourth quarters.

    Jensen finished with 20 points and Maly had 18 for Creighton. Emma Ronsiek added 14 points.

    “I’m so proud of our team and just can’t say enough about how much joy I get out of coaching them,” Creighton coach Jim Flanery said. “I told them in the locker room, what this group has done is they have made the NCAA Tournament an expectation which is probably something that we haven’t had at Creighton, and that’s a credit to the work that they have put in.”

    It was the last time playing in Pauley Pavilion for graduate students Osborne and Camryn Brown, a moment especially significant for Osborne, who decided to return to UCLA for a fifth year.

    She currently ranks No. 2 in program history in career points. The top-scoring Bruin with 3,198 points is Denise Curry, who was in attendance for the game.

    “The Bruin bubble, the pride, the alumni,” Close said. “It’s probably one of my favorite things about being a coach at UCLA. It really means something. If you represent the four letters across your chest, you are family for life.”

    ​ Orange County Register