Charisma Osborne’s career-high 36 points lead UCLA past Oklahoma and into Sweet 16
If this was Charisma Osborne’s final game at Pauley Pavilion, she ended with an emphatic mic drop.
The senior who could be a high WNBA draft pick this year led fourth-seeded UCLA to its first Sweet 16 berth since 2019 by scoring a career-high 36 points and adding eight rebounds and four assists in an 82-73 win over fifth-seeded Oklahoma.
On to the Sweet 16 for the fifth time under coach Cori Close, the Bruins (27-9) will play No. 1 overall seed South Carolina on Saturday in Greenville, S.C., in a rematch of a nonconference game Nov. 29 that the defending national champion Gamecocks won 73-64 on their home court.
In the handshake line after that game, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley left Close with a message.
“We will meet again,” Close said Staley told her.
UCLA squandered an 18-point, first-half lead Monday with a sluggish third quarter and trailed by one entering the fourth. The game ground to a near halt as the teams seemed to alternate free throws on every possession, but Osborne drilled the dagger on a midrange jumper with 1:50 remaining to put the Bruins up by 10 points.
The former Windward School star tied her previous career high in scoring with three free throws that gave her 32 points with 24 seconds left. She drilled two final free throws with six seconds remaining before Close subbed her off for a curtain call. They shared a long embrace.
UCLA women’s basketball coach Cori Close feels the secret to success in the NCAA tournament is getting players to find a balance between focus and fun.
“This is so meaningful to me because we have wrestled through the struggle,” Close said. “I deeply love her, and I believe in her so much. I think it actually goes even deeper because it hasn’t always been easy. I think you build real trust when you’re willing to enter into the tunnel of chaos and work through it until you come out on the other side.”
Osborne was playing in her first NCAA tournament not held inside a bubble. With an additional year of eligibility remaining because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Osborne could return to the Bruins, but with the way she raised her arms toward the crowd as fans rose to their feet, it seemed like a fitting end. Fans sitting near the floor chanted, “Thir-ty six! Thir-ty six!”
Her 36 points are the most by a player in the women’s NCAA tournament this year.
“I just went into the game just thinking play your game, play free,” Osborne said. “And I think I play best when I’m in that mindset.”
Led by Osborne’s 12-for-12 showing on free throws, UCLA made 25 of 28 for the game and 21 of 23 in the fourth quarter. The Bruins entered the game on pace to set the school record for free-throw shooting in a season at 77.4%.
Osborne and freshman Kiki Rice (14 points) were UCLA’s only double-digit scorers, but the Bruins were still able to outlast the explosive Sooners by holding star senior Taylor Robertson to two points. The NCAA career leader in three-point field goals with 537 missed all three of her tries from long distance.
Senior Madi Williams led the Sooners (26-7) with 24 points and six assists.
Like the Bruins did in their first-round game against Sacramento State, they jumped on Oklahoma early. Challenging the 14 unanswered points they hung on Sacramento State, the Bruins ripped off a 13-0 run between the first and second quarters, led by seven points from Osborne.
The Bruins led by 13 points at halftime and forced 13 turnovers, which led to 12 points for UCLA.
But the Bruins couldn’t keep the second-best scoring team in the nation down all night. A midrange jumper from Ana Llanusa at the 1:30 mark of the third quarter gave the Sooners a one-point lead, part of an 18-2 run.
Charisma Osborne finishes with 11 points and 12 rebounds to lead UCLA to a 67-45 win over Sacramento State in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
The Sooners shot 76.9% from the field in the third quarter but entered the fourth with just a one-point lead after Osborne scored on a three-point play with four seconds left in the third. When she saw her contested layup drop through the net, she pumped her fist and yelled.
“I felt like the light came back in their eyes with that play,” Close said of the impact on her players.
Later, jogging off the court after a television interview, Osborne pumped her fist again to the crowd. She disappeared into the tunnel as fans continued to cheer.
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