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Dancing to March Madness, UCLA women’s basketball readies to face Sacramento State

Senior guard Charisma Osborne pulls up from the top of the key against two Washington State defenders. The Bruins will be hosting in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six years. (Shengfeng Chien/Daily Bruin staff)

Women's Basketball

No. 13 seed Sacramento State
Saturday, 8:30 p.m.

Pauley Pavilion

By Alexis Hinkle

March 15, 2023 4:42 p.m.

After a one-year hiatus from the Big Dance, the Bruins will have a chance to compete on the nation’s biggest stage for the sixth time in seven years.

Not only will they return to March Madness, but they will play their first round at home in Pauley Pavilion for the first time since 2017.

No. 4 seed UCLA women’s basketball (25-9, 11-7 Pac-12) will host No. 13 seed Sacramento State (25-7, 13-5 Big Sky) in the Greenville Regional 1 bracket on Saturday. With a win, the blue and gold will continue to dance next Monday and face the winner of the No. 5 seed Oklahoma and No. 12 seed Portland matchup.

Competing in just her second NCAA tournament, senior guard Charisma Osborne said this opportunity is what she’s been looking forward to.

“We’re so ready for this, and we’ve been waiting for this for a while now,” Osborne said. “(I’m) just super grateful that I finally get to experience this, and even just last year, we didn’t get this opportunity. It just makes this moment that much more special.”

The blue and gold’s first round contest against Sacramento State will be an unfamiliar one as the two teams have competed just four times in history, with the last one being in 2015. Despite the Bruins’ winning every head-to-head between the two programs, they will be facing an unknown foe.

The Hornets are coming off of a nine-game winning streak and a crowning as the Big Sky tournament champions. They defeated all three opponents in the tournament by a margin of at least 13 points and averaged 69.7 points per game during the season.

But coach Cori Close’s track record reveals she is not one to shy away from a challenge. In 2015, she took the Bruins to the NCAA Sweet 16 round for the first time in 16 years.

After a competitive conference season this year, seven out of the 12 Pac-12 teams punched a ticket to the tournament. With her sharp knowledge of the Conference of Champions, Close said the regular season contests have prepared the team all year.

“The Pac-12 conference has been unbelievable,” Close said. “I’m really proud to be a part of that and really thankful for the way that such a deep conference prepares you. Every night you’re playing an NCAA tournament-level game.”

Only six of the 12 Bruins have previously competed in a March Madness game. The veterans lost the opportunity last season and instead accepted an auto-bid to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.

Prior to its recent selection to the Big Dance, the blue and gold competed in the Pac-12 tournament, but ultimately fell to Washington State in the championship round. While tournament play may be slightly familiar to the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, the NCAA tournament will be the first on its resume.

Freshman guard Kiki Rice said her older teammates have set examples for the freshmen to emulate as the postseason heats up.

“The competitiveness, focus, and attention to detail over the last few practices have been demonstrated by Charisma and the rest of the seniors and leadership group,” Rice said.

The Bruins will face Sacramento State on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. in Pauley Pavilion.

“We’ll have to play our best basketball to have an opportunity to win versus a great team,” Close said.

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Alexis Hinkle
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