March Madness: UCLA defeats Sacramento State, will play Oklahoma

Charisma Osborne wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Pauley Pavilion just yet.

The senior guard led UCLA to a 67-45 win over No. 13 Sacramento State in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday to give the No. 4 Bruins one last chance to score in front of their home crowd this season play.

UCLA meets No. 5 Oklahoma for a spot in the Sweet 16 at 7:00 p.m. PDT Monday after the Sooners defeated No. 12 Portland 85-63 on Saturday.

Osborne showed the all-around skills that could make her a top WNBA draft pick this season with 11 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and two blocks. Forward Emily Bessoir had 14 points and eight rebounds, while freshman Kiki Rice had a team-high 15 points, including 10 points in the first quarter that equaled Sacramento State’s total in the first frame.

“Charisma, she’s probably one of the ones who puts the most pressure on herself and I thought she was the most consistent,” said coach Cori Close, noting Osborne’s zero turnover and his team lead at plus 22. “She has winning games made.”

UCLA (26-9) is now 7-0 in NCAA first round tournament games under Close. A win Monday would send UCLA to their fifth Sweet 16 in Close’s 12-year tenure and the first for their current players.

The lack of postseason experience is largely the result of the pandemic, which canceled the 2020 NCAA tournament for Osborne and Camryn Brown, who were freshmen on a team that ranked in the top 11 all season. The following year, the Bruins were eliminated in the second round of the San Antonio-area bubble tournament due to COVID-19 protocols.

Reflecting on her unique postseason experience leading up to the game, Osborne marveled at the opportunity to host a “regular” tournament this year. That’s why she came to UCLA, and on Saturday the long wait was worth it.

Osborne flirted with her career-high rebounds at halftime, pulling down nine boards with six points and four assists as the Bruins took a 17-point lead at break. She recorded multiple blocks for only the second time this season and served on defense as one of the main players guarding Sacramento State star Kahlaijah Dean.

The Big Sky MVP, who averaged 21.1 points per game, was held to 11 on three-of-19 shooting. The Oakland transfer had six rebounds and five assists, while center Isnelle Natabou led Sacramento State with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

“We always talk about defense being our anchor and I think everyone took that to heart,” Osborne said. “If we wanted to win and win by a big margin, we had to defend and that will be a key in every game that follows.”

Rice’s hot start propelled the Bruins through a first quarter that included a 14-0 run to answer questions about how the team would respond to a two-week layoff after losing the Pac-12 Tournament Finals. Not only was it the break between tournaments that left the Bruins out, but they also had to wait for the tip at 8:30 p.m. PDT on Saturday. It was the final first-round match of the tournament.

Rice, who has hit double digits in seven of her last eight games, said she spent Saturday morning watching games from the men’s and women’s tournaments. When the Bruins were finally able to take the seat, she was only excited to attend the postseason party.

“I wasn’t nervous,” Osborne said, looking over at Rice, who was sitting on her left. “Were you?”

The newcomer shook her head. March Madness: UCLA defeats Sacramento State, will play Oklahoma

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