Claws out over Arizona Wildcats, UCLA women’s basketball wins Pac-12 semifinal bid
Veteran guards Charisma Osborne, Gina Conti and Camryn Brown celebrate Thursday’s victory alongside forward Emily Bessoir. UCLA women’s basketball will advance to the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament after its victory over Arizona. (Shengfeng Chien/Daily Bruin staff)
UCLA Women’s Basketball
|No. 5 seed UCLA||73|
|No. 4 seed Arizona||59|
By Gavin Carlson
March 2, 2023 2:49 p.m.
This post was updated March 2 at 3:19 p.m.
LAS VEGAS – Back on Feb. 3, the Bruins blew an 11-point fourth-quarter lead to the Wildcats to lose their third straight game.
The defeat knocked UCLA out of the AP Top 15, largely contributed to the team’s failure to secure a first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament and had many questioning if the blue and gold could be an elite team in 2023.
But after a statement third quarter granted UCLA another double-digit lead against Arizona on Thursday, the Bruins exorcized their late-game demons to pull off the conference tournament upset over the higher-seeded Wildcats.
“I’m excited to see your headline from it that we didn’t blow another one,” said coach Cori Close. “Those really painful lessons, as painful as they were, they have created some different habits and some different reference points that we’re drawing on now.”
No. 5 seed UCLA women’s basketball (24-8, 12-7 Pac-12) dominated No. 4 seed Arizona (21-9, 11-8) in the third quarter and sealed the deal in the fourth to earn a 73-59 win in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. The Bruins outrebounded the Wildcats 46-27 and drilled five 3-pointers in the second half to earn a date in the semifinals Friday.
Redshirt sophomore forward Emily Bessoir earned her first-career double-double with an 18-point, 12-rebound performance. She finished the game with a game-high plus-27 plus/minus a day after nailing five 3-pointers and scoring 17 points.
Bessoir said she’s finally starting to feel like her best self after last year’s seasonlong injury.
“I don’t know where it’s been all season,” Bessoir said. “Throughout the whole year, I’m still trying to find myself, I’m still trying to find my game, and the team has just been such a huge support. Now I’m really glad that things are coming together.”
Alongside Bessoir, senior guard Charisma Osborne added 18 points of her own in the victory.
Leading by two at halftime, UCLA’s defense smothered Arizona in the third quarter – outscoring the latter 22-12 – to emerge with a double-digit advantage.
The Bruins limited the Wildcats to 2-of-13 shooting from the field, forced five turnovers and finally hit their first two 3-pointers of the game to extend their lead from two to 12. UCLA had six players score at least three points in the quarter and used four offensive rebounds and eight points off turnovers to nab a 55-43 lead going into the fourth.
After a 17-point, five 3-pointer performance Wednesday afternoon, Bessoir caught fire from deep to try to put Arizona away early in the final period.
Bessoir opened the quarter with her first triple of the contest and drained another moments later to put the Bruins up 61-47. After the Wildcats cut the lead to 12 with 6:26 remaining in the game, they didn’t score another field goal until the final possession of the game.
The blue and gold finished the game in the same top form it showed from the opening tip.
UCLA came out on fire with a 6-0 run in the opening 1:49 of the game. After Arizona joined the action with its first basket, senior guard Camryn Brown scored again for her third layup in just over two minutes to put the Bruins up 8-2 early.
Brown averaged 2.9 points per game heading into the game before scoring six points in rapid fashion. She finished with a career-high nine points and six rebounds, including five on the offensive glass.
Even after her success Thursday, Brown said she’s at her best when she plays the “quarterback” role for her team.
“I love putting my teammates in the best positions for them to succeed,” Brown said. “I thrive the most being able to put some puzzle pieces together and solve problems.”
Bessoir scored eight points and added five rebounds in the opening 10 minutes Thursday as the blue and gold dominated Arizona on the glass with a 14-4 rebounding advantage – including 7-0 on the offensive glass.
But the Bruins turned the ball over four times and forced none. With the help of a pair of 3-pointers compared to UCLA’s 0-of-5 shooting from behind the arc, the Wildcats went into the second quarter leading 19-18.
The runs continued in the second quarter.
After a layup put the Bruins back up early in the second, the Wildcats answered with six quick points in 1:29 to go up 25-20. But instead of the spurt spurring a larger run for Arizona, it inspired the biggest run of the game for UCLA instead.
The Bruins went on a dominant 13-1 run behind Osborne in 3:26 to turn a five-point deficit into a 33-26 lead. Osborne received the ball deep in the post several times, converting an and-1 post spin before later drawing a foul in the post and nailing both free throws. The three-time all-Pac-12 player finished the blitz with a pump fake on the baseline that forced a fly-by by the Arizona defender before drilling the midrange jumper.
UCLA went into the halftime break with a 33-31 lead and never trailed from there on out, successfully avenging its collapse to the Wildcats on Thursday afternoon.
Bessoir said the win felt extra special, given how the last matchup against Arizona panned out.
“Last game against them was hurtful,” Bessoir said. “ We learned from that, and we knew that we’ve grown so much since then. So, I think our confidence was there.”
UCLA will face the winner of Stanford versus Oregon in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament on Friday night.