UCLA falls to Washington State in Pac-12 tournament championship game

UCLA guard Kiki Rice drives past Washington State guard Astera Tuhina
UCLA guard Kiki Rice, left, drives past Washington State guard Astera Tuhina during the Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament Sunday in Las Vegas.
(David Becker / Associated Press)

Follow its stunning win over top-seeded Stanford, UCLA couldn’t complete a rally and fell to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament title game.

Bruins just miss out on first Pac-12 title since 2006

Washington State center Jessica Clarke and UCLA forward Emily Bessoir battle for the ball.
Washington State center Jessica Clarke, left, and UCLA forward Emily Bessoir battle for the ball during the second half of the Bruins’ loss Sunday in the Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament.
(David Becker / Associated Press)

LAS VEGAS — As UCLA players huddled closely on the court at Michelob ULTRA Arena, a cannon shot confetti into the air. The Bruins weren’t the ones celebrating.

The No. 5 seed Bruins lost 65-61 to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament final on Sunday, coming one win short of their first conference title since 2006.

Senior Charisma Osborne had a team-high 19 points, including eight in the fourth quarter to help the Bruins (25-9) close an eight-point deficit to two, but her game-tying three-point attempt was blocked with nine seconds left.

Behind tournament most outstanding player Charlisse Leger-Walker (23 points, seven rebounds, three assists) and center Bella Murekatete (21 points), the No. 7 seed Cougars (23-10) became the lowest seeded team to win the Pac-12 tournament.

A team that wasn’t even receiving votes in the Associated Press poll this week knocked off three ranked teams in as many games en route to Washington State’s first conference title and the first Pac-12 championship for any women’s team at the school.

This year’s tournament included seven upsets by seeding, the most ever for the event, proving the depth of a Pac-12 Conference that could send as many as eight teams to the NCAA tournament.

With no championship trophy to take home Sunday, the Bruins took lessons from the cutthroat tournament as a consolation prize to set them up for the NCAA tournament.

“Every single time we’ve hit adversity, they’ve made really courageous choices of how to help that adversity teach their hearts and help make them different,” UCLA coach Cori Close said. “We always say that you have to choose the pain of regret or the pain of discipline and right now we’re going to have to learn from some of the pain of regret. But if it helps us get a little bit more disciplined, especially with our half-court execution and our defensive game plan, then my hope is that it will drive us to just that.”

Neither team trailed by more than eight points in a tight game that featured 13 lead changes and five ties. Clinging to a two-point lead after the third quarter, Washington State pushed ahead by making its first five shots of the fourth quarter.

Three came easily in the paint. The Bruins tried to keep pace with contested shots.

“The margin for error in these games is just so small,” Close said, “and they outexecuted us.”

Leger-Walker put the Cougars up by eight, their largest lead of the game, with 3:24 remaining. The deficit sparked Osborne’s offense as she scored four consecutive points and led UCLA on a 9-3 run that trimmed Washington State’s lead to two.

UCLA freshman Kiki Rice scored 11 of her 13 points in the second half, but finished without an assist for the first time in the tournament. She made two free throws with 23.3 seconds remaining to cut the lead to two, but after Leger-Walker missed one of two free throws to keep UCLA within one possession, Rice’s driving layup with 15 seconds dripped off the rim.

The Bruins got another opportunity on an out-of-bounds play, but Osborne’s three-point shot was blocked by Astera Tuhina, who had six points, six assists and two steals off the bench.

In her first postseason experience, Rice was chosen to the all-tournament team along with Osborne and UCLA forward Emily Bessoir, who scored 11 points with five rebounds Sunday. Rice averaged 14.5 points per game in the tournament, offering a glimpse of the top-rated point guard’s potential on the biggest stages.

“There were a few possessions … when we weren’t really on our A-game,” Rice said. “So I just think going forward knowing that every team is going to be great and they’re going to really be out there to execute, to really do what they do, so you just have to take away what they do best.”

Despite the loss, UCLA’s performance in Las Vegas should help the Bruins, who did not make the NCAA tournament last year, secure a top-four seed to host the first two rounds. They entered the tournament as a five seed in ESPN’s projections.


Three UCLA players earn all-tournament honors

Emily Bessoir, Charisma Osborne and Kiki Rice were named to the six-player all-tournament team.

Washington State’s Charlisse Leger-Walker was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. WSU center Bella Murekatete joined her teammate on the all-tournament team.

Stanford’s Cameron Brink was the lone player who didn’t make the final to earn all-tournament team honors.


Leger-Walker misses free throw to give UCLA a chance to tie

A missed free throw from Charlisse Leger-Walker has UCLA down 64-61 with 20.2 seconds to go. Kiki Rice got the rebound for the Bruins, who called a timeout.


Kiki Rice’s free throws keeps UCLA within one possession

Fans in Michelob ULTRA Arena were not thrilled with the foul call, but UCLA fans were happy to see Kiki Rice knock down two free throws with 23.3 seconds left to keep UCLA within one possession; the Bruins trail 63-61.

Cougar ball.


Washington State up by four in final minute

UCLA almost had the stop it needed.

Charisma Osborne pulled the Bruins to within two with two free throws with 1:22 remaining and the Bruins forced an errant pass from Charlisse Leger-Walker on the other end of the floor, but the Cougars were able to save the ball under the basket and get a foul. Bella Murekatete made two free throws to put the Cougars up 63-59 with 38 seconds left.


UCLA, WSU trading big shots in fourth quarter

UCLA trails 61-57 with 1:37 remaining. Both teams are trading huge baskets to in this tight contest.

Washington State extended its lead to eight, its largest lead of the game, but Charisma Osborne answered with four straight points for the Bruins. Charlisse Leger-Walker responded with a three-point play, then Gina Conti delivered a three-pointer.

Leger-Walker has 22 points. Osborne has 17.


Cougars extend lead behind Bella Murekatete

Emily Bessoir got the best of WSU’s Bella Murekatete to open the thrid quarter, but the center from Rwanda is getting her pay back in the fourth.

With six fourth-quarter points already, Murekatete has the Cougars up 50-56 with 4:41 to go. She has a game-high 19 points. This equals WSU’s largest lead of the game.


UCLA down by four

UCLA trails 50-46 with 6:55 to go as Washington State has made all three of its shots this quarter.

The Bruins are two-for-five, including two missed three-pointers.


UCLA trails by two entering fourth quarter

Gina Conti drove aggressively into the lane to end WSU’s 7-0 run and keep UCLA within one possession going into the fourth quarter.

The Bruins trail 44-42.

Charlisse Leger-Walker has 17 points to lead all scorers while Emily Bessoir has 11 for UCLA. Kiki Rice had seven points in the third quarter and has nine for the game.

Gabriela Jaquez is giving UCLA a good energy boost off the bench with five rebounds and three points.


Back and forth in the third quarter

UCLA went on an 8-0 run to open the third quarter, but Washington State has responded with five consecutive points to take a 37-36 lead with 4:45 remaining.

Charlisse Leger-Walker capitalized on a bad defensive switch by UCLA and knocked down a three-pointer to put the Cougars back in front. Gina Conti was defending Leger-Walker, but she passed her off to freshman forward Lina Sontag, who had no chance against Leger-Walker, who pulled up immediately after the switch.

Leger-Walker has 14 points, six rebounds and three assists.


Kiki Rice has entered the chat

After a quiet first half, Kiki Rice has back-to-back made shots, including a rare three-pointer, and the Bruins are up 36-32 with 6:07 remaining.

Emily Bessoir has been a beast on defense to start the third quarter, guarding WSU’s Bella Murekatete on the first three possessions of the second half and got stops on all of them. She forced two turnovers and one difficult hook shot that Charisma Osborne rebounded for the Bruins. Bessoir also knocked down a three on the other end for UCLA’s first points of the third quarter.


Back for the second half

And we’re back for the second half. UCLA trails 32-28.

Freshman Kiki Rice has just two points on one-of-six shooting after entering the final averaging 15 points per game in the Pac-12 tournament. She hasn’t taken any free throws — she’s 24-for-27 from the line during the last three games — and has just one rebound.


UCLA trails at halftime

Washington State made five of its last six field goals to finish the first half with a 32-28 lead.

The Bruins didn’t score for the last two minutes and seven seconds of the first half. Charisma Osborne leads UCLA with nine points and three assists while Emily Bessoir has eight points, three rebounds and an assist.

UCLA led by seven early in the quarter, but WSU went on an 8-0 run. A jumper from Londynn Jones ended the streak at the 4:27 mark of the second quarter. It was her first made shot of the game.

Charlisse Leger-Walker has 11 points to lead the Cougars.


Washington State cutting into UCLA’s lead

UCLA is clinging to a 23-22 lead with 4:51 remaining in the second quarter, but WSU’s Charlisse Leger-Walker has two free throws coming up after the media timeout.

Leger-Walker has six points, two rebounds and three assists as the Cougars are on a 6-0 run after UCLA went up by seven with a three-pointer by Charisma Osborne at the 6:29 mark of the second quarter.

Osborne has eight points and three assists.


UCLA leads after first quarter

UCLA is up 18-14 after the first quarter, led by eight points and three rebounds from Emily Bessoir. Charisma Osborne has five points and two assists.

The Bruins are not shooting the ball well — just 35% compared to WSU’s 50% — but they have rebounded almost half of their misses with seven offensive rebounds on 13 missed shots. UCLA has seven second-chance points.

Bella Murekatete leads the Cougars with six points on three-of-three shooting.


Charisma Osborne ties game with three-point play

Charisma Osborne tied the game at 10-10 with 5:00 remaining with a three-point play. She pulled up from midrange and was fouled on the jumper and converted from the free throw line.

The senior has five points and two assists.


UCLA trailing midway through first

UCLA trails 10-7 with 5:50 remaining in the first after missing five consecutive shots.

Emily Bessoir is cooking early with two jumpers, including a three-pointer on an offensive rebound. She had one three-pointer rattle in and out. She has a team-high five points. The forward from Germany is having a great Pac-12 tournament, posting three consecutive games with double-figure scoring and 28 total rebounds.


UCLA tips off against Washington State

And we’re underway at Michelob ULTRA Arena.

UCLA starting its normal five: Charisma Osborne, Kiki Rice, Gina Conti, Emily Bessoir and Camryn Brown.

Washington State going with Charlisse Leger-Walker, Johanna Teder, Tara Wallack, Ula Motuga, and Bella Murekatete. The Cougars are 22-6 with that starting group.


Welcome to championship Sunday

For one last time, hello from Michelob ULTRA Arena, this is Thuc Nhi Nguyen. We’re playing for a championship today with No. 5 UCLA and No. 7 Washington State facing off in this unexpected Pac-12 tournament final. Tip is scheduled for 2 p.m. PT on ESPN2.

A win would give UCLA its first conference title since 2006.

The Bruins (25-8) upset No. 1 seed Stanford to get here and the Cougars (22-10) knocked off three consecutive ranked teams, including No. 2 seed Utah. Washington State, playing in its first Pac-12 championship game ever, is the lowest seeded team to reach the conference title game.

UCLA and Washington State split their regular-season series with each team winning on the road, but the Cougars were without star Charlisse Leger-Walker when they lost to the Bruins on Jan. 22. WSU is 0-4 in games without their leading scorer this year.


UCLA’s family affair

Fresh off a senior night victory at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday, UCLA men’s basketball star Jaime Jaquez Jr. is in the stands in Michelob ULTRA Arena with his father and younger brother to watch his sister Gabriela play for the Bruins.


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

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.

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UCLA’s freshmen living up to the hype, carry Bruins into Pac-12 title game

UCLA guard Kiki Rice and forward Gabriela Jaquez head off the court after UCLA’s win over top-seeded Stanford.
UCLA guard Kiki Rice (1) and forward Gabriela Jaquez (23) head off the court after UCLA’s win over top-seeded Stanford in the Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament Friday.
(Chase Stevens / Associated Press)

LAS VEGAS — This is why they came.

The top-ranked freshman class in the country, less than a year after arriving on campus, will play for UCLA’s first conference title since 2006 on Sunday as No. 5 seed UCLA faces No. 7 seed Washington State (23-10) in the Pac-12 tournament final at 2 p.m. at Michelob Ultra Arena.

Led by top-ranked point guard Kiki Rice, who scored a career-high 22 points and made 12 of 13 free throws in the semifinals, the Bruins (25-8) slayed top-seeded Stanford during UCLA’s first tournament victory over the Cardinal in 17 years. Players celebrated by dumping water on coach Cori Close’s head in the locker room after the game.

But Close allowed them just 90 minutes to celebrate Friday night. By Saturday morning, they were already reviewing scouting reports for Washington State, which is making the program’s first appearance in the conference title game.

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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.

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