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Incoming UCLA women’s basketball freshmen bring home gold in FIBA U18 championship

Incoming freshman guard Kiki Rice (middle) celebrates the win while holding her tournament MVP trophy and wearing her gold medal. Team USA – which included both Rice and fellow incoming freshman guard Londynn Jones – were victorious in their final game against Team Canada in the FIBA U18 tournament. (Courtesy of Renee Felton)

By Grace Whitaker

June 23, 2022 11:51 a.m.

This post was updated June 26 at 11:48 p.m.

Two incoming Bruins had business to take care of before coming to Westwood.

Guard Kiki Rice and guard Londynn Jones, two incoming UCLA women’s basketball freshmen, took home gold with Team USA at the women’s basketball FIBA U18 championship in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on June 19. Rice and Jones’ team went undefeated across six matchups and overcame Team Canada 82-77 in the championship game.

UCLA coach Cori Close – who traveled down to Argentina to watch the semifinal and championship games live – said the tournament was a unique opportunity for growth for her incoming freshmen.

“Having all that time together, experiences going to another country, growing as basketball players and as people – it’s just an incredible advantage in terms of us building chemistry,” Close said.

Rice – the No. 2 recruit in the country and Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year – has previously played on Team USA and brought home gold medals in the 2022 FIBA 3×3 U18 World Cup and the 2019 FIBA Americas U16 championship.

Jones – the No. 22 recruit in the country – is also a returning FIBA player with a gold medal of her own from the 2019 FIBA Americas U16 championship, the first time Rice and Jones played together in an international tournament.

(Courtesy of Renee Felton)
Incoming freshman guard Londynn Jones goes up for a shot in the final game against Team Canada in the FIBA U18 tournament. Jones scored 15 points in the final game of the tournament to help Team USA defeat their opponents and take home a gold medal. (Courtesy of Renee Felton)

 

In this season’s iteration of the FIBA U18 tournament, Team USA defeated opponents from across the globe with an average margin of 52.4 points before meeting Canada in the gold medal game.

Team USA led by 10 points at the half, but a third-quarter rally kept Canada within four going into the fourth quarter. A combined 11 points for the two future Bruin guards in the final frame kept the Americans afloat to secure the five-point victory.

Close said it was Arizona commit and Team Canada guard Lemyah Hylton who caused Team USA the most defensive trouble in the game.

“The player that was pressuring them the most is going to Arizona,” Close said. “It’s sort of a precursor of what they’re going to see in the Pac-12.”

Jones finished the game with 15 points, five rebounds and two assists. Rice collected 18 points of her own and was selected as the tournament MVP and as an All-Star 5 Honoree. Rice concluded the tournament ranked second in scoring with an average of 14.3 points per contest.

Rice and Jones also ranked first and second, respectively, in assists with 47 collectively, an indication of chemistry building for the two future teammates in Westwood.

Close said the tournament gave her an opportunity to enjoy the caliber of her incoming players with the rest of the audience.

“I was a fan, and I got to really just celebrate their level of excellence,” Close said.

UCLA women’s basketball has a history with success at the FIBA level. Of the four players that led the blue and gold in scoring last year, three of the players had previously competed on a FIBA USA team.

Senior guard Charisma Osborne – who finished last season as the leading scorer for the Bruins – also once took home gold in the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup.

Former Bruin guards Natalie Chou and Jaelynn Penn both played for USA basketball, with Chou also earning a gold medal.

Last summer, Close coached the U19 women’s team to a FIBA World Cup championship and received co-honors for USA Basketball’s 2021 Developmental Coach of the Year.

Close said after the tournament, Rice sent her a text reiterating her championship commitment to the Bruin program.

“Kiki said, ‘Thank you making the trip down to watch us play, now I only have one focus in mind: bringing some championships to Westwood,’” Close said.

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Grace Whitaker | Assistant Sports editor
Whitaker is currently an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, women's soccer, beach volleyball and cross country beats. She was previously a contributor on the women's basketball and beach volleyball beats.
Whitaker is currently an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, women's soccer, beach volleyball and cross country beats. She was previously a contributor on the women's basketball and beach volleyball beats.
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