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UCLA women’s basketball’s WNIT run concludes with loss to South Dakota State

Graduate student forward IImar’I Thomas holds the ball as she looks down the court. Thomas finished her first and only year with UCLA women’s basketball with a 24-point evening, her third highest total of the season. (Joseph Jimenez/Daily Bruin)

Women’s basketball

South Dakota State62

By Lauryn Wang

March 31, 2022 7:30 p.m.

This post was updated April 3 at 11:15 p.m.

After a battle featuring 11 lead changes and 10 ties, the Bruins’ season has come to a close.

UCLA women’s basketball (18-13, 8-8 Pac-12) fell to South Dakota State (28-9, 17-1 Summit League) by a score of 62-59 in the semifinals of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament on Thursday evening in Brookings, South Dakota. With the loss, the team ended its postseason run in front of the sold-out Frost Arena.

Coach Cori Close said the contest was hard-fought against a team that had the potential to make the NCAA tournament and added that she’s proud of her players’ delivery and perseverance during a challenging season.

“South Dakota State is an NCAA tournament team,” Close said. “That was a big-time matchup. I’m disappointed that we had to play so many games on the road and the way we had to go, but we haven’t made any excuses all year and we’re not going to start now.”

Following the tip, the contest quickly turned into a back-and-forth affair, with neither team able to pull away by more than four points in the first quarter.

After playing catch-up for much of the period, junior guard Charisma Osborne was fouled on a half-court heave with less than three seconds left. Osborne converted all three free throws to give the Bruins a 15-12 lead to close the opening frame.

Throughout the second quarter, UCLA forced seven turnovers from South Dakota State – which ranks top 30 in the country with around 13 per contest – to reach 11 total for the half. 

Graduate student forward IImar’I Thomas, who played her last game as a Bruin, said being a part of UCLA means buying into a culture and program that emphasizes defensive disciplines – such as getting stops and deflections to force turnovers. 

“(Defense) is something that we pride ourselves on as a program regardless of what team we’re playing,” Thomas said. “Defense is the anchor of UCLA basketball.”

The Bruins were able to take advantage of the mistakes from the Jackrabbits, stretching the lead to 21-15 just over three minutes into the period with a jumper from graduate student guard Jaelynn Penn. However, South Dakota State hit the first 3-pointer of the night from either side and kept the blue and gold in foul trouble to stay within striking distance for the remainder of the quarter. 

The Jackrabbits went on a 6-0 run over the last 2:38 of the half, punctuated by a three-point play with one-tenth of a second to play from forward Tylee Irwin to help them gain a 27-25 lead heading into the halftime locker room. The Bruins were out-rebounded 24-12 in the half and didn’t make a 3-pointer. 

Close said her team struggled to crash the boards against an opponent proven to be one of the most successful teams in the nation on the glass.  

“We’re defending the second most offensively efficient team in the country and one of the top offensive-rebounding teams,” Close said. “That’s something we didn’t take care of.”

The two teams opened the third quarter by trading both points and turnovers. The Jackrabbits made a quick basket to stretch the lead to four, but Thomas answered with two free throws before the two teams each committed a turnover. 

The Bruins regained the lead at 35-31 around 4 ½ minutes into the third period with a series of inside baskets by junior guard Camryn Brown, Thomas – who would finish the night with a team-high 24 points – and Penn. 

While the Bruins struggled to convert from deep, Thomas continued to make her presence felt inside, sinking two more layups to keep the score at 40-36 with 1:47 to play in the third quarter. However, two free throws and a basket on the last possession of the period from the Jackrabbits tied the game up at 40-40.

Powered by its second-chance points and free throws, South Dakota State stretched its lead to five – its largest of the game – just under three minutes into the final period. Following a layup from Jackrabbit forward Myah Selland, both teams remained scoreless for two minutes until Osborne forced South Dakota State’s 20th turnover of the evening with 4:34 to play and converted the fast-break layup to get her team back within one.

Close said the Bruins’ struggles from the charity stripe – for a team that averages .767 from the line – coupled with off-the-bounce defensive breakdowns contributed to the second-half disadvantage.

“We’ve been a great free throw shooting team all year, and we were 10-for-18,” Close said. “Our inability to guard the drive in that second half was really the difference.” 

After missing its first 11 long-range attempts, UCLA hit back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers to again pull within one point before two free throws from Osborne gave the Bruins a 58-57 advantage with 1:16 to play.

UCLA then failed to hit another field goal as South Dakota State regained and extended its lead while converting on free throws to make it 62-59, an advantage it would maintain through the remainder of the game.

“The underclassmen really wanted to extend this season for the seniors,” Osborne said. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that tonight.”

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Lauryn Wang | Assistant Sports editor
Wang is currently an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, men's soccer, women's golf, men's golf and track and field beats. She was previously a contributor on the women's basketball and women's golf beats.
Wang is currently an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, men's soccer, women's golf, men's golf and track and field beats. She was previously a contributor on the women's basketball and women's golf beats.
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