Friday, December 9

UCLA women’s basketball sweeps South Dakota State, Tennessee

Graduate student guard Gina Conti brings up the ball and surveys the court. Conti put up 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting from deep Sunday morning.(Courtesy of Caren Nicdao/UCLA Athletics)

Women's Basketball

South Dakota State65
No. 11 Tennessee63

The Bruins found revenge in the first round and an upset in the second round.

Now, they’re championship-bound at the Battle 4 Atlantis.

UCLA women’s basketball (5-0) avenged two losses to South Dakota State (3-2) last season with a 72-65 victory Saturday, followed by an 80-63 triumph against No. 11 Tennessee (2-3) on Sunday. Now, the blue and gold will face Marquette on Monday for the championship berth, in a matchup that moves from FloHoops to ESPN.

Coach Cori Close said these victories came from individual contributions, but it’s always been about growing as a team.

“We have a saying that our director of mental training has taught us: ‘Sometimes you, sometimes me, but always us,’” Close said. “Today, different people stepped up and different people made contributions. I’ve just talked to this team about earning confidence, and what kind of habits are you willing to commit to so that we can grow into becoming a special team?”

In the first contest, UCLA overtook the Jackrabbits early with a burst of eight collective points from redshirt sophomore Emily Bessoir and senior guard Charisma Osborne. Bessoir and Osborne, veterans of the Bruin squad, have been competing with the blue and gold for longer than more than half of the team.

The first quarter was close with UCLA holding a four-point lead, but assists from graduate guard Gina Conti and freshman guard Kiki Rice to Osborne allowed the Bruins to end the quarter ahead 25-21.

Conti, who transferred to UCLA as a graduate student last year but sat out with injury, said the dynamic between guards helps the team pace themselves offensively.

“It’s been really fun with Kiki (Rice), Charisma (Osborne), and I, just being able to play off of each other,” Conti said. “If Kiki gets the outlet, okay, well, cool – I’m sprinting the lane. Then we can get a fast break, and then maybe I can get the ball into our post player who’s the rim runner. … Just creating space and moving the ball has been really helpful with the three of us, too.”

UCLA was able to extend its lead to 44-35 by halftime, its biggest lead of the game.

Osborne, UCLA’s current leading scorer, continued to lead the Bruins with 28 points and four defensive rebounds, maintaining her versatility on both ends of the court. The blue and gold kept its advantage for the rest of the game, defeating South Dakota State 72-65.

After conquering the Jackrabbits in the first round, the Bruins continued their winning streak and defeated No. 11 Tennessee after trailing in the first quarter.

Unlike the first round contest against South Dakota State where the Bruins collected six personal fouls in the first frame, the blue and gold committed just one in the first quarter. The Bruins also bested their previous record of three three-pointers in the first half with 10 beyond the arc, outscoring the Volunteers behind the three point line.

Tennessee was on the board first with four quick points, but Osborne responded from deep – her first of five from 11 three-point attempts throughout the contest. The Bruins did not relinquish the lead for the remainder of the game, ultimately tying for the program’s single-game record in made-3s with 16 total.

“We talked a lot about running in transition and being able to kick up and attack,” Osborne said. “Our point guards and just the guards getting into the paint and being able to find the shooters, we did a really good job with that. Even before the game, Coach Cori was like, ‘We’re due for one soon.’ So finally we were able to hit our threes.”

The blue and gold remained committed around the rim, out-rebounding the Volunteers 41 to 30. UCLA committed 26 fouls compared to Tennessee’s 16, but the Volunteers were limited to 64.5% from the charity stripe on 31 attempts.

The Volunteers outscored the Bruins in the last quarter 6-2 with just under seven minutes to play, but the Bruins’ comfortable lead didn’t relent. Freshman guard Londynn Jones hit the last three-pointer of the game after an assist from Conti, helping the blue and gold defeat Tennessee 80-63 both inside and outside of the paint.

Close said the preparation for the upcoming championship game is going to be on scouting, but also honing in on their own play and mindset.

“For this game, yes, we had a scouting report, and there were some slight tweaks that we needed to have against Tennessee. But the focus, really, was on who are we going to be?” Close said. “Who are we going to step into? What kind of greatness are we going to choose? Are we going to earn the confidence that we really want? It might look a little different in style tomorrow, but the focus is going to be the same.”

The Bruins are set to face Marquette on Monday at 9:00 a.m. for a chance at a championship title in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament.

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