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UCLA women’s basketball to contend with short bench against Arizona, Arizona State

Sophomore guard Kiki Rice dribbles the ball on the court. Rice scored her career-high 25 points against Washington State. (Jeremy Chen/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Women's Basketball

Friday, 8 p.m.

Pauley Pavilion
Pac-12 Networks
Arizona State
Sunday, 12 p.m.

Pauley Pavilion
Pac-12 Networks

By Sabrina Messiha

Feb. 8, 2024 2:45 p.m.

The Bruins have experienced ebbs and flows the past few weeks.

They have lost two of the last four contests – one at home and one on the road – following the recent absence of sophomore center Lauren Betts.

Now, No. 9 UCLA women’s basketball (17-4, 6-4 Pac-12) will have the chance to right its ship after its 20-point loss to Stanford – Betts’ previous school – when it takes on Arizona (12-10, 4-6) and Arizona State (10-12, 2-8) at home in Pauley Pavilion on Friday night and Sunday afternoon, respectively. Betts’ return date is still uncertain.

“This will end up being a blessing in disguise, because I don’t think we’re going to be able to just rely on Lauren,” said coach Cori Close. “In March, for what we want to get accomplished, we need Lauren back and we need them (other players) to hunt for their shots. … We need them to be aggressive all the time.”

The Bruins are sitting at fifth in the conference, while Arizona sits at eighth and Arizona State lies at the bottom of the rankings in 12th place.

The last time the Bruins faced the Wildcats was in the 2023 Pac-12 tournament, in which UCLA upset Arizona in the quarterfinals. Prior to their upset, UCLA lost out to Arizona just a month before at home.

The Bruins also faced the Sun Devils almost a year ago during the same tournament. While the then-No. 5 seeded Bruins led by 19 points in the third quarter, their lead diminished, taking the then-No. 12 seeded Sun Devils into overtime before escaping with a win.

In the upcoming games, UCLA’s roster will be shorthanded.

With the recent retirement from basketball of senior forward Izzy Anstey – coupled with senior forward Emily Bessoir’s injury and Betts’ absence – the Bruins are left with only five of their seven forwards. Sophomore forward Lina Sontag and senior forward Angela Dugalić will also be absent this weekend for international duties as they travel to Brazil for the FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

“We’re going to have to rotate people through. We’re going to have to be very deliberate,” Close said. “But I think clarity in the game plan and just having a really connected spirit overcomes a lot in terms of a short bench.”

With a bench of only seven or eight players against Arizona and Arizona State, Close said that she hopes sophomore forward Gabriela Jaquez will be adaptable for the team this weekend.

“Jaquez has really versatile guard tendencies,” Close said. “Gabs (Jaquez) is going to play both at the wing and at the four spot, and sometimes we play double big as well.”

Sophomore guard Kiki Rice and graduate student guard Charisma Osborne have also stepped up among recent absences. Osborne notched season-high points scored against California this past weekend with 32 points. Rice had her career-high 25 points against Washington State.

Betts has been the team’s second-leading scorer throughout the season, but in her absence during the past four games, both Rice and Osborne have taken over as the Bruins with the most points.

“We’ve been sort of thrown into that because of some changes that we’ve had to adapt to, but they are perfectly capable of doing that on a really, really consistent basis,” Close said. “When Lauren comes back, it’s not going to change that. I want them to do that all the time.”

The Bruins and the Wildcats will tip off at 8 p.m. on Friday night.

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Sabrina Messiha
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