March 26, 2024 

Sights and sounds from NCAA Tournament at Pauley Pavilion

Young talent powers UCLA to the Sweet 16 (and the Big Ten) 

LOS ANGELES — A 5:30 p.m. PT start on a Monday is hard, especially in traffic-riddled Los Angeles. But on Monday night, almost 8,000 fans gathered to watch second seed UCLA defeat seven seed Creighton, in what would be Charisma Osbourne’s final game at Pauley Pavilion.

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When legend Ann Myers Drysdale flashed onto the scoreboard, she received a standing ovation, followed by the camera shifting to her jersey hanging in the rafters and a heartfelt smile and touch to her heart from the former Bruin. While the program will remain in good hands (clearly demonstrated by the sophomore performances this weekend), there was certainly a feeling of nostalgia in the air, as the Bruins’ epic season will not continue in Pauley, and this was the final game they’ll play at home as a member of the storied Pac-12 conference.

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Osbourne, too, is part of that legacy. She has been a backbone of the Bruins, starting 147 of her 150 games and while averaging 15.1 points and almost 33 minutes over the last five seasons. 

But on Monday, amid offensive challenges for Osbourne, it was ultimately the sophomore duo of Kiki Rice and Lauren Betts who led the charge for host UCLA, a promising sign as they look toward not only a matchup with LSU this weekend, but the program’s future in the Big Ten. 

Despite a few promising offensive possessions and a crowd heavily involved from the jump, UCLA struggled to put together more than one defensive stop in a row in the first half, and hot-shooting Creighton did not let up, hitting 58.6% of shots in the first two quarters, including 5-for-9 from three. Osbourne went 1-5 in the first half with two turnovers, but consistently found Betts in the post, where she consistently had seven inches on her defender. Betts’ offense kept the Bruins in the game (albeit behind by 8 at the break), with 14 points in the half. 

As Creighton made adjustments on Betts (rightfully so) in the third quarter, deflections and double teams made it harder to get her the ball. Rice immediately stepped up. “At some point they are not going to let me play one-on-one. We saw how that was going,” Betts told reporters. 

Rice said, “When Lauren is in there, they are sending multiple people to her. Every time, any guard on the perimeter really can drive, Lauren is going to seal or get open, and we are going to have a good attack lane.” 

A talented and disciplined Creighton team showed they deserved to be here – scoring in a variety of ways with pull-ups, cutting off the ball, and hitting mid-range jumpers, playing defense that disrupted UCLA’s rhythm despite their mismatch in the post.  

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The UCLA Bruins celebrate during their win at Colorado on January 19.
UCLA Bruins center Lauren Betts has not played since the team’s loss at Utah on January 22. (Photo credit: Credit: Ron Chenoy | USA TODAY Sports)

Rice and Betts finished with a combined 44 points, including 13 points from Rice in a third-quarter push from the Bruins that eclipsed the Creighton lead and ultimately decided the game. Every time the energy switched or dipped, Coach Cori Close would substitute in Gabriela Jaquez (yet another sophomore) and a reliable sparkplug.  

By the end of the third, with the score knotted at 56, the energy was tense but hopeful for the plethora of Bruins fans in the building. A dance began to play, but notably the only fans dancing were about 10 or younger, whose parents could be seen nervously behind them awaiting the final quarter, worried that the (bigger and more important) dance would end in a second-round upset.  

When forward Angela Dugalic hit a three with 8:13 left in the game and built a five point Bruin lead to force a Creighton time out, the roof could have blown off Pauley Pavillion. Betts, who stands 6’7, hit her teammate with a chest bump, catching her off guard and laughing, before heading to the bench. UCLA would lead the rest of the way.  

Despite a challenging game on a personal level, you’d never know it from Osbourne’s effort, body language, and after-game-antics. She remained a constant embodiment of Coach Close’s mantra “Sometimes me, sometimes you, always us,” finding teammates, tying up loose balls, and being the leader that has already gotten the team this far. Rice said about her senior “she doesn’t need to score to impact the game. [ … ] But her defensive intensity really carried us.” Betts added “that’s just Charisma, she’s a tough player. [ … ] She works so hard, and she’s such a great example for the rest of the sophomores that are trying to get like her.”

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They’re on the right track. This team looks completely different from the one that lost a demoralizing Sweet 16 game to South Carolina last year. Not only do they have a dominant presence in the post in Betts now, but they also have a year under the belts of an outstanding sophomore class that was already seeing significant minutes as freshmen last year, in Rice, Jaquez and Londynn Jones. With the inside-outside talent of this class, Big Ten teams are going to face a major defensive challenge that’s only going to get harder. 

UCLA’s win cemented them as the fourth Pac-12 team to make the Sweet 16 on Monday, with USC making it five only a few hours later. When asked about what that means to her and to the UCLA program, Close said: “Every coach is campaigning that their conference is the best in the country. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that. Well, I’m going to say it, and I’m going to say our numbers are backing it up; we have prepared each other to be ready for big moments.” 

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Written by Cameron Ruby

Cameron Ruby has been a contributing writer for The Next since April 2023. She is a Bay Area native currently living in Los Angeles.

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