Women’s basketball to play first-ever match against Air Force in 2nd round of WNIT
Graduate student forward IImar’I Thomas holds the ball in the corner during UCLA women’s basketball’s home win over UC Irvine on Friday. Thomas recorded seven of her 13 points in the final five minutes of the first-round win. (Marc-Anthony Rosas/Daily Bruin)
Sunday, 2 p.m.
UCLA Live Stream
By Lauryn Wang
March 20, 2022 11:46 a.m.
The Bruins will face an unfamiliar opponent with their season on the line.
In the first-ever matchup between the two teams, UCLA women’s basketball (15-12, 8-8 Pac-12) is set to compete against Air Force Academy (19-13, 11-7 Mountain West) in the second round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament on Sunday afternoon in Pauley Pavilion. If the Bruins can overcome the Falcons – who are 0-42 all-time against Pac-12 teams – they will meet either Wyoming or Tulsa in the third round of the tournament.
Both teams advanced to the quarterfinals of their respective conference tournaments but failed to secure a ticket to the Big Dance before accepting their WNIT bids.
In the first round of the WNIT, Air Force notched a comeback road win against higher-seeded San Francisco on Thursday. The following day, UCLA defeated UC Irvine 61-48 after rallying in the fourth quarter to overcome a back-and-forth affair at home.
Coach Cori Close said her team’s hustle made the difference down the stretch against the Anteaters, adding that the players’ defensive discipline allowed them to come out on top and secure a spot in the second round.
“That obviously wasn’t the prettiest game for us on the offensive end, but lots to learn from (and) lots to grow in,” Close said. “We don’t get a chance to play on Sunday if we weren’t gritty, tough and committed on the defensive end of the floor.”
On the other end of the court, some Bruins have stepped into playmaking roles because of various injuries in the guard rotation.
Junior guard Charisma Osborne, who leads the Bruins in scoring, notched more assists than points in the first half Friday. Close said she was proud of Osborne’s progress in facilitating throughout the entire season.
“Playing the point guard is not her first choice but she’s doing it because her team needs her,” Close said. “She’s become a better basketball player because of it.”
Graduate student guard Natalie Chou and graduate student forward IImar’I Thomas also stepped up for the Bruins on Friday, notching 19 and 13 points, respectively. Chou said she knows what is at stake Sunday, in what could be her final collegiate game.
“Every single game is an opportunity for seniors like us,” Chou said. “Like IImar’I said, we want to be playing our best at the end of the year.”
In a season already abridged because of six COVID-19-related cancellations or postponements, the blue and gold will attempt to extend its postseason run for at least another round.
“They’re very resilient and they’re willing to eliminate excuses,” Close said, “If they weren’t committed to that, we would not be here right now.”
The Bruins tip-off against the Falcons on Sunday at 2 p.m.