UCLA stuns top-seeded Stanford in Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament semifinals

UCLA guard Kiki Rice, right, drives to the basket under pressure from Stanford guard Haley Jones.
UCLA guard Kiki Rice, right, drives to the basket under pressure from Stanford guard Haley Jones during the first half of the Bruins’ 69-65 comeback victory Friday in the Pac-12 women’s basketball semifinals.
(Chase Stevens / Associated Press)

No. 5 seed UCLA rallied from a 16-point deficit and upset No. 1 seed Stanford Friday night during the Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament semifinals.

UCLA stuns Stanford to advance to Pac-12 final

UCLA players celebrate after defeating Stanford in the Pac-12 women's basketball tournament semifinals.
UCLA players celebrate after defeating Stanford in the Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament semifinals Friday night.
(Chase Stevens / Associated Press)

Cori Close brought an inexperienced but talented team to the Pac-12 tournament hoping high stakes could finally teach UCLA how to win.

The Bruins cashed out Friday.

UCLA shocked No. 1-seeded Stanford in the semifinals, winning 69-65 to advance to Sunday’s championship against No. 7 seed Washington State at 2 p.m. at Michelob Ultra Arena. UCLA is one win away from its second conference tournament title and first since 2006.

“We need these kind of reference points where we conquer hard things to make it go from our head to our heart,” Close said, “and that’s what this was.”

Freshman Kiki Rice carried the fifth-seeded Bruins (25-8) with 22 points, five assists and five rebounds. She knocked down 12 of 13 free throws with her first miss coming with UCLA up by two with 21 seconds remaining. The Bruins corralled the loose ball to earn two more free throws.

Senior Charisma Osborne didn’t miss those.

Osborne, UCLA’s lone All-Pac-12 team honoree, had 13 points and the Bruins came back from 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to end a four-game losing streak against Stanford (28-5) and beat the Cardinal in a conference tournament game for just the second time in 13 tries. The Bruins trailed by as many as 16 in the second half.

At the final horn, Osborne ran into freshman forward Christeen Iwuala’s arms as the Bruins jumped up and down in celebration at midcourt.

“It wasn’t pretty the entire time, but even if you saw us after the game, we had so much joy,” Osborne said. “So I think this actually might be one of my favorite games that I’ve ever played in.”

After getting outscored 42-25 in the fourth quarters against Stanford in two losses, UCLA opened the fourth quarter on a 9-2 run to cut the deficit to three.

Gina Conti knocked down two big three-pointers, including one at the 5:40 mark to bring the Bruins to within two. The graduate transfer from Wake Forest finished with 11 points and made three three-pointers, her most made shots from long distance since Jan. 13 against Stanford.

In that game at Pauley Pavilion, UCLA was down by two at the end of the third quarter before getting blown out 21-10 in the fourth. Late-game struggles plagued the Bruins all season as the fourth was the only quarter in which they were outscored this season. The problem returned in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament against Arizona State when the Bruins gave up
a 19-point third-quarter

But by holding off the Sun Devils and protecting a lead for a comfortable win against Arizona in the quarterfinals, the Bruins showed their maturity as freshmen such as Rice blossomed.

“We know that we don’t want to feel that pain again,” Rice said of the regular-season losses. “Last time against Stanford, I feel like we could have won that game too. So this time I feel like we came out, we gave it our all and everyone was just hunting for their shot.”

Fellow freshman Lina Sontag provided a lift off the bench with four points and four rebounds while guarding Stanford star Cameron Brink, who had 19 points and 11 rebounds but was one for six from the field in the second half.

Close walked into the postgame news conference with her formerly curled hairstyle flattened by water sprayed around the locker room. Her gray pants were soaked through and she joked no one would want to sit in her seat after she was done.

But she didn’t leave the arena without saying that Friday’s watery celebration wasn’t the last one the Bruins wanted to experience in Las Vegas.

“As thrilled as we are for this game, and this is a monumental win, we didn’t come here to beat Stanford in the semifinals,” Close said. “We came here to pursue a championship at the highest levels.”


Washington State upsets Colorado to set up unexpected Pac-12 final

Washington State players celebrate after defeating Colorado in the Pac-12 women's basketball tournament semifinals Friday.
Washington State players celebrate after defeating Colorado in the Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament semifinals Friday. The Cougars will play UCLA for the title Sunday.
(Chase Stevens / Associated Press)

UCLA will dust off its white jerseys for Sunday’s Pac-12 tournament final as the fifth-seeded Bruins will be the home team against No. 7 seed Washington State.

The Cougars beat No. 3 Colorado 61-49 on Friday in the semifinals to set up an unexpected final, which will be played at 2 p.m. PT at Michelob Ultra Arena. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.

UCLA and WSU are just the fourth and fifth teams in conference history to advance to the championship game after winning three games. Sunday’s winner will be just the second team to claim the tournament title after winning four rounds, joining 2014 champion USC. WSU’s win over Colorado was the sixth upset by seeding in the tournament, tying a conference record.

WSU upset No. 2 Utah in the quarterfinals and held off a run from the Buffaloes, who came back from a 16-point third-quarter deficit. The Cougars sprinted away in the fourth behind a 12-2 run with six fourth-quarter points from Ula Motuga. Cougars star Charlisse Leger-Walker finished with 15 points but scored only two points in the fourth.

UCLA was 1-1 against Washington State this season with each team winning on the road. The Cougars secured the program’s first win in Pauley Pavilion on Feb. 23. The Bruins have already avenged regular-season losses to Arizona and Stanford in the Pac-12 tournament.

“Our revenge tour,” senior Charisma Osborne joked after UCLA’s news conference.


UCLA closing in on monumental victory

Kiki Rice’s first missed free throw of the game still ended with a UCLA celebration as the Bruins grabbed the offensive rebound and got fouled.

Charisma Osborne made two free throws and has the Bruins up 67-63 with 14.9 seconds to go.

Rice is 10-for-11 from the free throw line with 20 points. Another great game for the freshman.


Two free throws from Kiki Rice has UCLA up by three

The UCLA fans sitting right behind me at the arena are, as the kids say, lit.

The Bruins lead 64-61 with 27.2 seconds remaining after two free throws from Kiki Rice. The freshman has 19 points and made all nine of her free throw attempts.


UCLA clinging to one-point lead

Keep breathing, UCLA fans.

The Bruins are up 62-61 with 34 seconds remaining.

Charisma Osborne pushed UCLA ahead by three before Stanford ended an 8-0 UCLA run with a layup by Agnes Emma-Noupu with 52 second to play.

The Bruins have the ball out of bounds after the timeout.

If they pull this off, this would easily be UCLA’s best win of the year. Cori Close has never beaten Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer in the conference tournament.


Kiki Rice puts UCLA ahead

Midrange assassin Kiki Rice sank a jumper from the top of the key to put UCLA up 60-59 with 1:57 remaining.

Stanford called a timeout.

Rice has 17 points, five rebounds and four assists. The freshman also has just one turnover.


UCLA trails by one

Gina Conti had a wide-open three from the corner that could have tied the game, but her shot was off the mark. She still closed the gap to one with two made free throws and UCLA trails 59-58 with 2:30 remaining.


Nothing but a G thing

Gina Conti hit another three-pointer to cut the deficit to two. The Bruins trail 56-54 with 4:49 to go.

Conti has nine points on three-of-five shooting from three-point range. It’s the most three-point makes for the grad transfer since she sank three against Stanford on Jan. 13.

The Bruins are shooting 62.5% from the field in the fourth quarter.

Stanford has five turnovers in the second half to UCLA’s one.


Here comes UCLA

UCLA isn’t going away easily.

The Bruins are on a 9-2 run to open the fourth quarter and trail 52-49 with 7:06 remaining in the game after a big three-pointer from Gina Conti.

Conti has six points, all coming on three-pointers.

UCLA opened the fourth quarter with a four-point possession. Emily Bessoir earned an and-one opportunity, but her missed free throw turned into an offensive rebound for the Bruins. Charisma Osborne drove into the lane for a layup to put UCLA down 50-44.

Bessoir has 14 points and six rebounds. Osborne has nine points.


UCLA trails by 10 entering fourth quarter

Freshmen Kiki Rice and Lina Sontag are trying to will UCLA to an upset over Stanford, but the Cardinal’s upperclassmen leaders Cameron Brink and Haley Jones are keeping the Bruins at bay so far.

UCLA trails 50-40 entering the fourth as Brink and Jones have 15 and 11 points, respectively.

Rice is pacing the Bruins with 11 points, including five-of-five shooting from the free throw line. Sontag, a 6-foot-3 forward from Germany, is stepping up against Brink and has four points and three rebounds.


Kiki Rice cuts deficit to 10 points

Two free throws from Kiki Rice has cut Stanford’s lead to 10 as UCLA trails 50-40 with 1:28 remaining in the third quarter.

Rice has 11 points, two rebounds and two assists.

Despite UCLA’s deficit, another freshman Lina Sontag has had a breakout game with four points, three rebounds and an assist. She missed the first game of the Pac-12 tournament with an illness, but has proven that she’s up to the task against Cameron Brink defensively.


Stanford maintains lead in third quarter

UCLA cut the lead to single digits, but Stanford is back up 44-31 with 4:24 remaining in the third.

Many of UCLA’s post players are in foul trouble with Lina Sontag and Camryn Brown on the bench with three each. Emily Bessoir has two.

Londynn Jones scored her first points of the game with a three-pointer with 4:56 left in the third. The freshman has struggled this tournament, especially with turnovers, but if she can get hot, the Bruins may have a chance to make a comeback. She was named to the Pac-12’s All-Freshman team this season.

Cameron Brink has a game-high 15 points with eight rebounds for Stanford. Kiki Rice leads UCLA with nine points.


UCLA starts second half with basket from Lina Sontag

Lina Sontag got the start in the second half to match up with Stanford’s Cameron Brink and she immediately made an impact with her first points of the night.

UCLA trails 35-24 with 8:45 to go in the third quarter.


UCLA trails at halftime

Shooting just 27% from the field with nine turnovers, UCLA trails Stanford 35-22 at halftime.

The Bruins don’t have many answers to Stanford’s dynamic front court. Even after Cameron Brink (11 points, six rebounds) left with two fouls, the Bruins struggled to contain 6-foot-7 Lauren Betts (five points, three rebounds) and Fran Belibi (four points, three rebounds).

The Cardinal are outscoring the Bruins 12-2 in the paint.

Kiki Rice has nine points for the Bruins and Emily Bessoir has five points and four rebounds.


UCLA calls timeout as Stanford extends lead

UCLA hasn’t been able to take advantage of early foul trouble to Stanford’s Cameron Brink and trails 32-19 with 2:33 remaining in the first half.

Brink went to the bench with two fouls at the 3:57 mark of the second quarter but the Bruins have turned it over in three consecutive possessions since.


Fresh faces

Freshmen Kiki Rice and Lina Sontag are putting their stamps on this game early as Rice, the top point guard prospect in her class, has a team-high nine points with UCLA down 25-17 with 5:45 left in the second quarter.

Sontag, a forward from Germany, came off the bench and has two points, one block and a steal. She will be a critical player against Cameron Brink.

Emily Bessoir’s layup through contact with 8:04 to go in the second quarter provided UCLA’s first paint points of the night. The Bruins thrived in the paint against Arizona, but are struggling to break through against the size of Stanford.


Stanford ends first quarter on 6-0 run

With a scoring drought of five minutes and 15 seconds to end the first quarter, UCLA trails Stanford 17-8.

The Bruins turned the ball over five times during the stretch, allowing Stanford to go on a 6-0 run. UCLA has five turnovers compared to Stanford’s one.

Charisma Osborne and Gina Conti have three points each to lead the Bruins. Cameron Brink and Haley Jones each have four points and one block.


UCLA rolling the dice from deep

UCLA trails 11-8 with 4:09 to go in the first quarter, led by three-pointers from Charisma Osborne and Gina Conti.

With Pac-12 defensive player of the year Cameron Brink patrolling the paint, UCLA seems content to rely on its jump shooting. It’s a bold strategy for a team that is prone to long and deep shooting droughts.

Five of UCLA’s first six shot attempts were jumpers. The only one in the paint — a drive from Kiki Rice — was blocked by Brink.

The Bruins are three-for-11 from the field and two-for-seven from deep.


Can UCLA end its losing streak against Stanford?

Hello from Michelob ULTRA Arena for a third consecutive day, this is Thuc Nhi Nguyen sitting courtside for UCLA’s Pac-12 tournament semifinal game against No. 1 Stanford.

The Cardinal swept the Bruins during the regular season and have a four-game winning streak in the head-to-head series. UCLA is just 1-11 against Stanford in conference tournament games with the only victory coming in 2006 when the Bruins won tournament title. As I’ve said many times in the last 24 hours, Tournament Tara just doesn’t miss.

Although UCLA lost both games to the Cardinal this year, the Bruins were competitive. At home on Jan. 13, UCLA trailed by just two entering the fourth quarter then got outscored 21-10 in the fourth. On Feb. 20, the Bruins led by one going into the fourth to only lose 71-66.

An inability to close out games has been a problem for UCLA all year, but perhaps the team has turned a corner after yesterday’s win against Arizona. Stay tuned to see if that was just a one-off or a sign of true growth from a young team.


Camryn Brown quietly stars in UCLA’s upset over Arizona

Arizona guard Kailyn Gilbert, left, and UCLA guard Camryn Brown battle for the ball.
Arizona guard Kailyn Gilbert, left, and UCLA guard Camryn Brown battle for the ball during the second half of the Bruins’ win Thursday in the Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament.
(David Becker / Associated Press)

LAS VEGAS — Camryn Brown had a wide-open lane to set a career high in scoring, but as the senior watched Kiki Rice’s one-armed baseball pass float through the air, Brown’s own stats were the furthest thing from her mind.

“I can’t let her get the turnover,” Brown said she thought to herself.

With a quiet but critical career-high nine points, six rebounds, four assists and two blocks, Brown’s selflessness helped propel the No. 5-seeded Bruins into the Pac-12 tournament semifinals after a 73-59 win over No. 4 Arizona on Thursday at Michelob Ultra Arena.

UCLA will face top-seeded Stanford, a 76-65 winner over No. 9-seeded Oregon, on Friday at 6 p.m.

Forward Emily Bessoir led the Bruins (24-8) with 18 points and 13 rebounds, her first career double-double.

The redshirt sophomore made two key three-pointers in the fourth quarter to ensure that the Bruins, who blew a 19-point lead against No. 12 seed Arizona State on Wednesday and lost in overtime to Arizona (21-9) during the regular season after giving up an 11-point fourth-quarter advantage at Pauley Pavilion, wouldn’t let another win slip away.

After sitting out all of last season because of a torn ACL, Bessoir has scored in double figures in both of UCLA’s Pac-12 tournament wins with 22 combined rebounds and seven three-pointers. She also hit two big shots in overtime for the Bruins against Arizona State.

“I think throughout the whole year, I was still trying to find myself,” Bessoir said. “I’m still trying to find my game and the team has been just a huge support and I think now, I’m really glad that things are coming together.”

Brown, Bessoir added, could sympathize with the recovery climb.

Brown suffered torn ACLs in back-to-back seasons in high school. A two-time league defensive player of the year at Prestonwood Christian Academy in Texas, Brown was stuck on the sideline during her junior and senior years.

But the injuries turned into a “blessing,” Brown said earlier this season. She used her view from the bench to develop her basketball knowledge and work selflessly to help her teammates by drawing up plays to get them open baskets. She brought the same influence to Westwood.

“She’s a glue player,” coach Cori Close said after UCLA’s win against Arizona State in the first round in which Brown was plus-14 on the court despite scoring only four points. “She’s what makes you go from having talented individuals to a cohesive team that does something bigger together than they could do on their own.”

Close called the 5-foot-11 small forward her team’s quarterback for the way she helps set up the offense and direct the defense.

Brown’s energy results in extra possessions, even if she doesn’t officially get credit for a steal or rebound after tipping the ball to one of her teammates.

Never one to give up on a play, Brown dished an assist to Londynn Jones while falling to the ground in the third quarter and scrambled to her feet in time to celebrate the freshman’s three-pointer that put the Bruins up by 12 points. Jones delivered the big play after a earlier pep talk from Brown, who was caught on TV cupping Jones’ face and encouraging her after the freshman turned the ball over a third time in the first half.

“I love putting my teammates in the best positions for them to succeed and for them to have success,” Brown said. “I think that’s where I thrive the most, being able to put some puzzle pieces together and solve problems. But my teammates really just help me shine; when they do good, I look good, apparently.”

Brown didn’t have to just settle for an understated role in the offense Thursday as she scored six of UCLA’s first eight points by cutting to the basket aggressively for easy layups. The highlight came in the third quarter when the senior, averaging just 2.9 points, slipped behind the Arizona defense during a press break and drew a foul on a made layup after a long pass from Rice.

Bessoir, who was on the bench, said she almost became light-headed from celebrating when Brown completed the three-point play.


UCLA advances to semifinal with win over Arizona

UCLA guard Charisma Osborne, right, steals the ball from Arizona guard Kailyn Gilbert during the first half Thursday.
(David Becker / Associated Press)

No fourth-quarter struggles this time.

UCLA overwhelmed Arizona in the second half to win 73-59 in the second round of the Pac-12 tournament on Thursday, upsetting the No. 4 seeded Wildcats (21-9) and advancing to Friday’s semifinal.

The Bruins will face No. 1 Stanford or No. 9 Oregon at 6 p.m. PT at Michelob ULTRA Arena. UCLA (24-8) reached the conference tournament final in 2021, when it lost to Stanford.

The No. 5 seed Bruins didn’t repeat Wednesday’s second-half struggles that let a 19-point lead disappear against Arizona State. They instead burst into the semifinal by handing Arizona, which is ranked 21st in the Associated Press poll, its third consecutive loss.

UCLA was clinging to a two-point halftime lead after missing all seven of its three-point attempts in the first half and turning the ball over eight times that led to 11 Arizona points. The Bruins broke out of the shooting slump by hitting four of seven three-pointers in a 22-point third quarter. They scored six points in the fourth quarter against Arizona State.

Two three-pointers early in the fourth quarter from Emily Bessoir assured that UCLA wouldn’t let another lead lapse. The sophomore from Germany led the Bruins with 18 points and 11 rebounds, followed by 18 points from Charisma Osborne. Freshman Kiki Rice had nine points and seven assists.

Senior Camryn Brown scored a career-high nine points with six rebounds and four assists.


UCLA stays ahead mid-way through fourth

UCLA is closing in on a trip to the Pac-12 tourmament semifinals.

The Bruins lead 66-52 with 4:36 remaining in the fourth quarter against Arizona, but haven’t hit a shot from the field in the last 2 minutes and 54 seconds.

If UCLA advances, they’ll face No. 1 Stanford or No. 9 Oregon. The win over Arizona could also help UCLA move into a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament, which would bring the first two rounds to Pauley Pavilion.


Emily Bessoir hits back-to-back threes to open fourth quarter

UCLA is 4-for-7 from three-point range in the second half and lead 61-47 with 8:10 remaining.

Emily Bessoir hit two three-pointers to open the fourth quarter for UCLA and has 18 points.


Can UCLA hold on to this lead?

They’re up big again. But can UCLA maintain its lead this time?

The Bruins are up 55-43 entering the fourth quarter after keeping Arizona scoreless from the field for the last 7 minutes and 34 seconds of the third quarter.

We can’t forget that UCLA also had a big lead yesterday and blew it all against a team with just one conference win. The fourth quarter is the only frame in which the Bruins are getting outscored this year.

Camryn Brown has been an unexpected star on offense with nine points, six rebounds and four assists. She averages just 2.9 points per game, but gave UCLA its largest lead of the game with a three-point play on a long pass from Kiki Rice with 1:18 remaining in the third.

Charisma Osborne has 15 points. Emily Bessoir has 12 points and eight rebounds.


UCLA extends lead in third quarter

Londynn Jones hit a three-pointer with 5:18 remaining in the third quarter to give UCLA its biggest lead of the day.

The Bruins are up 47-35 and are shooting 71.4% from the field in the second half.


Gina Conti hits UCLA’s first three-pointer


Gina Conti’s three-pointer with 8:20 remaining in the third ended UCLA’s long-distance shooting drought and put the Bruins up 40-31. Arizona called a timeout as the Bruins started the second half on a 7-0 run.

UCLA missed its first seven three-point shots of the game.


Back for more

And we’re back for the second half.

UCLA, up 33-31, is looking for its first three-pointer of the game. Counting yesterday’s second half, UCLA has now made just two of their last 17 three-point shots. The two makes came in overtime against Arizona State.


UCLA leads at halftime over Arizona

Despite a late second quarter scoring drought, UCLA still leads 33-31 at halftime over Arizona.

UCLA’s last shot came with 3:11 remaining in the second quarter before Arizona closed on a 5-0 run. Charisma Osborne leads the Bruins with 11 points.

After going 0-for-7 from three and turning the ball over eight times compared to Arizona’s one, UCLA has to be pretty happy about the halftime lead. The Bruins are making up for their miscues by dominating on the boards, 25-11. UCLA has missed 17 shots and grabbed 10 offensive rebounds.

UCLA built a seven-point lead with Kiki Rice on the bench after the freshman picked up her second foul early in the second quarter. The Bruins got a good boost off the bench from Gabriela Jaquez, who has four points and two rebounds.


UCLA on 9-0 run to take lead

UCLA leads 29-25 with 3:51 remaining as Arizona is in a three-minute scoring drought.

A three-point play from Charisma Osborne tied the score at 25-25 with 5:55 remaining in the second. It was part of a 9-0 run for the Bruins, who are staying competitive in the first half despite not hitting a single three-pointer (0-for-7) and turning the ball over six times compared to Arizona’s one.

Osborne has seven points, three assists and two rebounds for the Bruins.


Arizona has narrow lead after first quarter

Less than 24 hours ago, UCLA made just two field goals in an entire quarter. But it looks like the Bruins got a good night’s sleep because the offense is humming early in this quarterfinal game.

The Bruins are cutting aggressively to the basket and shooting 9-of-15 from two-point range, but trail 19-18 after missing all five of their three-point attempts.

Emily Bessoir leads the Bruins with eight points and five rebounds. Charisma Osborne has four points, three assists and two rebounds.

UCLA is outrebounding Arizona, 14-4.

Jade Loville has eight points for the Wildcats on 3-of-4 shooting.


UCLA off to fast start

UCLA has opened the game with six quick points to force a timeout from Arizona.

The Bruins are up 6-0 with 8:11 remaining after Kiki Rice assisted a layup by Camryn Brown.

Brown, who averages just 2.9 points per game, already has four points. Rice has two assists and a rebound.


UCLA tips off against Arizona in second round

Hello again from Michelob ULTRA Arena. This is Thuc Nhi Nguyen. I had a delicious meal of chicken and waffles for breakfast and I’m ready for UCLA’s second-round game against No. 4 seed Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament.

The Bruins (23-8) are coming off an overtime victory against 12-seed Arizona State during which they blew a 19-point lead by making just two shots in the fourth quarter. UCLA survived thanks to clutch plays from freshman Kiki Rice, Charisma Osborne (16 points) and Emily Bessoir (17 points, nine rebounds).

Rice, who had 14 points, eight rebounds and the key block to send the game into overtime, had one of her best overall games this season. The freshman point guard was coming off of back-to-back games with no assists but her six assists against the Sun Devils were her most since 12 against California on Jan. 15.

UCLA lost to Arizona (21-8) in overtime on Feb. 3 in Pauley Pavilion. The winner of the second-round game plays No. 1 seed Stanford for No. 9 Oregon in the semifinals on Friday.


How regular-season clutch-time struggles helped UCLA survive against ASU

UCLA guard Gina Conti handles the ball against Arizona State
UCLA guard Gina Conti handles the ball against Arizona State during the first round of the Pac-12 women’s tournament Wednesday.
(David Becker / Associated Press)

LAS VEGAS — Cori Close didn’t have time to fret about how her team lost a 19-point lead to a team that had one conference win. She couldn’t agonize about the 2-for-16 shooting in the fourth quarter or the eight straight missed three-pointers in the second half.

All the UCLA coach cared about after the No. 5 Bruins survived an overtime scare against Arizona State on Wednesday in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament was that they, indeed, survived.

“At this time of year, we just found a way to win,” Close said after UCLA’s 81-70 win in overtime. “And we earned another game. That’s all I care about.”

UCLA (23-8) will play No. 4 Arizona (21-8) on Thursday at noon at Michelob ULTRA Arena.

The Bruins need a victory against the Wildcats to keep hope alive for a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament, which would secure hosting rights for the first two rounds. UCLA was a No. 5 seed in ESPN’s latest Bracketology released on Tuesday.

Early in the conference season, it seemed that UCLA would coast to the postseason home-court advantage. The Bruins rose to as high as No. 8 in the Associated Press rankings. But a string of close losses, capped off with a 71-66 overtime defeat to Arizona in Pauley Pavilion, knocked them back.

It was UCLA’s third consecutive tight loss following a three-point overtime defeat to Colorado on Jan. 27 and a two-point loss to Utah on Jan. 29 in which Pac-12 Player of the Year Alissa Pili hit a game-winning layup in the final second.

When the Bruins found themselves in another nail-biter Wednesday, the lessons from their previous close calls showed up.

“It comes down to the fundamentals of our game, which is rebounding, passion plays and defending,” said Emily Bessoir, who hit two key three-pointers in overtime and finished with 17 points and nine rebounds. “Just having those past games as experience, we knew exactly who we were looking for and what we were looking for.”

Freshman Kiki Rice scored the game-tying basket with 1:27 remaining in regulation then sent the game into overtime with key block as time expired against ASU’s Jaddan Simmons, who finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds.

Tyi Skinner led the Sun Devils (8-20) with 26 points.

Rice, the top point guard prospect in her recruiting class, finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Senior Charisma Osborne, UCLA’s lone All-Pac-12 honoree, scored 16 points with eight in overtime to help the Bruins pull away late.

“I was thinking we’re not losing this game right now,” said Osborne, who also set the critical screens in overtime to free Bessoir for her late three-pointers. “From past games, we have lost close games and I think our team did a good job of being able to execute and know what we were looking for. But really, I was just thinking, OK, how can I help my team and what do they need from me. I feel like actually, I didn’t do as great leading in the fourth quarter and I wanted to reset myself.”

UCLA guard Kiki Rice handles the ball against Arizona State
UCLA guard Kiki Rice handles the ball against Arizona State during the first round of the Pac-12 women’s tournament Wednesday in Las Vegas.
(David Becker / Associated Press)

Osborne and Bessoir are the only Bruins who have played in an NCAA tournament victory. Point guard Gina Conti appeared in one NCAA tournament game with Wake Forest, a first-round loss in 2021, which was the Demon Deacons’ first NCAA tournament game since 1988.

With the top-ranked freshman class in the country, Close knows her team has talent for a deep postseason run. But the pressurized moments in Las Vegas are a necessary “dress rehearsal” to ensure her players are mentally ready for higher stakes.

“I’m thinking about how do we teach these kids to know how to win,” Close said. “Age ain’t nothing but a number. ... We don’t have a lot of experience, but so what, we don’t have control over that. But we’ve had a lot of great, pressurized moments against a lot of different styles of play and we’ve just gotta find out game by game how to figure a way to win.”