Grueling run ends for UCLA in WNIT Final Four, but it is upbeat for next season

UCLA coach Cori Close talks to the team during a timeout.
UCLA coach Cori Close talks to the team during a timeout. The Bruins fell to South Dakota State on Thursday in the WNIT Final Four.
(David Becker / Associated Press)

In a season marked by adversity, UCLA’s disappointment became opportunity. Even as the season ended on Thursday in the WNIT Final Four, the Bruins held optimism through the perseverance of a difficult season.

The Bruins trailed with seconds left at South Dakota State and could force overtime, as they did in Wyoming less than a week ago in a three-overtime thriller.

The Bruins didn’t make that final shot this time and lost 62-59 to end their season.

“We used that [experience], in several timeouts,” Bruins coach Cori Close said. “‘We’ve been here so many times, we’ll be fine.’ There was never that panic. ... In steadiness and poise, there was no difference this game than the game in Wyoming or at Oregon State.”


Close described the last two seasons as the hardest of her career, and for her players, with COVID taking away five of their games this season, and several injury problems.

That adversity became a comfort zone for the Bruins. Dealing with three road games in some of the toughest gyms in the league in the WNIT was just another challenge they didn’t shy away from.

“We always say, lean into the hard,” Close said. “That’s when you grow the most.”

On Thursday, UCLA didn’t hit a three until the fourth quarter, when it made three in a row late. On the other end, though, the Jackrabbits made five of their final six shots, including the go-ahead score from Haleigh Timmer with 38 seconds to go.

Ilmar’I Thomas, one of eight graduating players, hit one of two free throws with 27 seconds left, leaving the Bruins trailing by one. They finished 10 for 18 as a team from the stripe.

The status of starters Tyger Campbell, Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Johnny Juzang remains undecided as UCLA looks ahead to next season after Sweet 16 exit.

March 26, 2022

UCLA had an opportunity to tie the score with seven seconds left. A Charisma Osborne three-pointer rattled across the rim and out as time expired.

The Jackrabbits, who held the highest three-point percentage of any team in the nation, were held to one of eight from three. The Bruins defense excelled the entire postseason, holding opponents under 65 points in five of their last seven games.


UCLA snagged 13 steals and forced 20 turnovers.

“It’s been our anchor all year long,” Close said. “Offense can come up and down, but we knew we had to defend. We’re defending against the second-most offensively-efficient team in the country, one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country.”

Close cited offensive rebounds as a struggle for the Bruins against a Jackrabbits squad that excels on the boards. South Dakota State won that battle 16-12.

The Bruins and Jackrabbits were both on the cusp of making the NCAA tournament, with UCLA one of the first four teams out. South Dakota State was one of UCLA’s early season defeats in late November, and one that knocked them out of the top 25.

Close gave her players a choice to compete in the WNIT after they didn’t have their name called on Selection Sunday. They unanimously decided to play and ended up on a grueling path that included three road games on the way to the Final Four.

“It wasn’t the season we all planned for,” said Osborne, a junior. “Being an underclassman, we wanted to extend the season for the seniors. We’re super proud of all we’ve been through, to make it this far.”

Now that underclassmen have a postseason run under their belts, and they will start anew and healthy next season, Close thinks the future is still bright for the Bruins.


The season didn’t go the way they wanted, but the perseverance was its own opportunity for their next chapter.

“Just watch what we’re gonna do,” she said.