UCLA, USC to face off in Pac-12 women’s tournament with NCAA hopes at stake

USC forward Jordyn Jenkins shoots over UCLA defenders.
USC forward Jordyn Jenkins shoots over UCLA defenders during the first half Jan. 23 at Galen Center.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Cori Close doesn’t need to look at any “bracketology” projections to know where UCLA, with a 13-11 overall record and 8-8 conference mark, stands in the NCAA tournament conversation. Entering this weekend’s Pac-12 tournament, the Bruins’ task is simple.

“We gotta win our one-game season,” the UCLA coach said. “That’s it. And then do it again.”

The No. 7 seed Bruins need a deep run in the Pac-12 tournament to secure their sixth NCAA tournament appearance. The road begins against No. 10-seed USC as the rivals face off in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas. The winner faces No. 2 seed Oregon on Thursday in the second round.


Sophomore forward Jordyn Jenkins leads the Trojans (12-15, 5-12 Pac-12) into the postseason after earning the conference’s first most improved player award Tuesday. The accolade she shared with Washington State’s Bella Murekatete marked Jenkins’ transition from role-playing freshman to standout inside scoring presence. The Kent, Wash., native more than doubled her scoring average from 6.2 points per game as a freshman to a team-high 15.2 this season while shooting 53% from the field, which ranked third in the conference.

Only three of UCLA’s top players have been part of a victory over USC. The Bruins will try Saturday to end a five-game losing streak to the Trojans.

March 1, 2022

Early on, Jenkins’ physical talents were obvious. The 6-foot-2 forward boasts polished footwork and wiggles through defenders with ease to score in the paint. She is “very guard-like” in her movement, point guard Desiree Caldwell marveled.

But Jenkins missed the first eight games last season because of an injury and had her first college season marred by the pandemic that kept fans out of arenas. Now healthy, Jenkins is soaring into the conference spotlight.

“We’ve seen her grow in confidence that if she misses her first shot or two, I think she really believes ‘OK, I’m going to keep attacking and my next 10 are going to go in,’” USC coach Lindsay Gottlieb said, “which is how I feel.”

Jenkins, who was named to the 15-player All-Pac-12 team, led six all-conference honorees from UCLA and USC, which included UCLA’s two-time All-Pac-12 selection Charisma Osborne. Osborne (17.1 points per game) and fellow All-Pac-12 honoree IImar’I Thomas (15.4) are second and fifth, respectively, in the Pac-12 in scoring, making UCLA the only conference team with two of the top five scorers.

UCLA guard Charisma Osborne drives the ball against USC forward Alissa Pili.
UCLA guard Charisma Osborne drives the ball against USC forward Alissa Pili during the second half on Jan. 23 at the Galen Center.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Osborne won the league’s final regular-season player of the week award after helping the Bruins to a regular-season finale sweep of then-No. 12 Arizona and Arizona State. The Windward School alumna averaged 17.5 points and 8.5 rebounds during the two victories that helped UCLA regain momentum after losing eight of its previous 10 games.

“The reality is we go as Charisma goes,” Close said.

The road win against short-handed Arizona helped put the Bruins at No. 41 in the NCAA Net rankings entering the postseason. It’s higher than Washington State, which is 58th in the Net rankings, but is NCAA tournament-bound with the No. 4 seed in the Pac-12 tournament at 19-9 overall and 11-6 in the conference. UCLA defeated the Cougars at Pauley Pavilion in January.

USC guard Isaiah White struggled this season as he juggled helping raise two children. Now he’s rested and ready to help USC go deep in another NCAA tournament run.

Feb. 28, 2022

The Pac-12 has six teams in ESPN’s latest projected NCAA tournament field, which is expanding to 68 teams for the first time. The Bruins, who have advanced to the NCAA regional semifinals in four of the last five tournaments, aren’t even among the first or next four out.

But Close says she hasn’t looked at any “bracketology” projections. She instead is focused on how the Bruins can “attack the now.”

“That’s what we’ve been really focusing on: being really present-focused,” she said. “To the extent that we can live and really stay in that space, we can really surprise some people.”