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Grace’s Whits: UCLA women’s basketball has the tenacity to fight against Tournament odds

The UCLA women’s basketball team talks while in a huddle. The Bruins are 27-9 heading into their contest against South Carolina. (Shengfeng Chien/Daily Bruin staff)

By Grace Whitaker

March 23, 2023 1:59 p.m.

Everyone thinks the Bruins have reached their ceiling.

Despite moving forward to the Sweet 16, there are doubts about UCLA women’s basketball’s capabilities going into their upcoming contest against No. 1 seed and title-favored South Carolina.

But this isn’t the first time the Bruins have been in this situation.

Taking down Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament to advance to the semifinals after an above-average regular season campaign was a respectable feat for UCLA, but no one besides the team believed in the possibility of more. UCLA found itself down 10 at the start of the fourth quarter to top-seeded Stanford, as expected. The Bruins had put up a good fight and would be sent home gracefully.

But the Bruins reassured everyone that they didn’t want to leave Vegas just yet.

In a magical comeback, UCLA did the unthinkable, outscoring the Cardinal 29-15 in the fourth quarter to dethrone the top-ranked team and upset a national title contender.

And despite her team once again proving it was capable of more than previously thought, coach Cori Close knew UCLA wasn’t stopping there.

“We didn’t come here to beat Stanford in the semifinals,” Close said after the win over Stanford on March 4.

Throughout this season, UCLA has been just shy of national recognition – always left out of title buzz that considered iconic programs including Connecticut, Stanford and South Carolina. And rightfully so, as the Bruins hadn’t done enough to deserve their name in the same vein as the most recent two national championship winners. A 27-9 season isn’t exactly the same as South Carolina’s 34-0.

Coming into this season, it was expected that UCLA would shoot right up to that conversation. After the glimmer of hope the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation presented early in the season, the start to the campaign highlighted by five early Pac-12 regular-season losses made it appear that the title dreams it brought were just a mirage, and the 45-year long drought in championships would continue in Westwood.

That’s not to say this season wasn’t a vast improvement over the team’s last. This year, UCLA consistently held a spot in the national rankings, managed to emerge as one of six teams to hold South Carolina within single digits, was the Pac-12 tournament runner-up and earned a coveted top four seed in the NCAA Tournament. Compared to last season, when the blue and gold didn’t even receive a bid to the tournament, this campaign was redemption.

And yet, the 2022-2023 season was just shy of magical for UCLA, until the postseason came around.

(Alex Driscoll/Daily Bruin staff)
Senior guard Charisma Osborne hugs coach Cori Close as she leaves the court. Osborne scored 36 points in her potential last game in Pauley Pavilion on Monday. (Alex Driscoll/Daily Bruin staff)

UCLA’s remarkable run would’ve ended in a conference tournament title if Washington State’s Cinderella run would’ve struck midnight just two weeks earlier than it did.

But the Bruins still earned a No. 4 seed, taking down No. 13 seed Sacramento State with ease. Next up was No. 5 seed Oklahoma, which presented a challenge after a third-quarter Sooners comeback. But senior guard Charisma Osborne gave her all to keep the Bruins dancing.

Osborne had the best performance of her career, with 36 points, eight rebounds and four assists in 37 minutes. And as she walked off the court of Pauley Pavilion for likely the last time after four years with the blue and gold, the senior received a standing ovation and a hug from Close.

The win, by the sheer will of Osborne, now sends the Bruins across the country to face the most formidable opponent out there.

However, freshman guard Kiki Rice assured that the team is unafraid of the Gamecocks.

“We have no doubt in us, and we’re just excited to go down there and play our game,” Rice said.

Once again, it’s time for a matchup in which no one believes in the Bruins.

Let’s see if they’ll prove everyone wrong yet again.

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