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Kiki Rice, Gabriela Jaquez lead UCLA women’s basketball to victory over Arizona

Sophomore guard Kiki Rice elevates to dish the ball into the paint. Rice shot 9-of-12 from the field Friday night, her third-highest clip of the year. (Myka Fromm/Assistant Photo editor)

Women’s Basketball

No. 9 UCLA66

By Gavin Carlson

Feb. 9, 2024 11:06 p.m.

This post was updated Feb. 9 at 11:34 p.m.

Lauren Betts returned to the floor Friday night after a four-game absence for undisclosed medical reasons.

Despite the return of the sophomore center and country’s most efficient scorer, two other sophomore stars led the Bruins to victory.

Behind 41 combined points from guard Kiki Rice and forward Gabriela Jaquez, No. 9 UCLA women’s basketball (18-4, 7-4 Pac-12) defeated Arizona (12-11, 4-7) by a score of 66-58 in Pauley Pavilion. Rice contributed a majority of the Bruins’ baskets in her 15-point first half, while Jaquez scored 10 in the third quarter to lead UCLA to the Friday night win.

“(Rice) was a hunter tonight,” said coach Cori Close. “(We) needed her to be much more aggressive, to not hesitate. I thought she was passing on way too many shots and really proud of the way that she responded.”

After coming off the bench for the second time all season, Betts struggled early in her first game action since Jan. 22.

UCLA’s second-leading scorer heading into the contest missed her first three shots before finishing the half with two points on 1-of-5 shooting. Facing double-teams early, Betts let multiple passes skid off her fingertips in the opening 20 minutes – even receiving noticeable encouragement from Rice after expressing frustration following the second failed catch.

“Her just being on the court – she draws so much attention,” Rice said. “I know that she was a little bit frustrated with how she was playing, but I told her – just her being on the court is so, so helpful for everyone else. So that was great to be playing back with her.”

Rice did more than just offer emotional support to her center.

The 5-foot-11 floor general scored early and often, tallying the game’s first points with a fading midrange jumper before capping off a 10-point first quarter with a two-handed layup. The contested finish on the left side of the hoop was her fifth make in seven attempts in the opening 10 minutes. Outside of Rice, UCLA’s offense shot just 2-of-8 from the field in that span.

In the second quarter, Jaquez joined Rice in stuffing Friday’s box score.

The 6-foot all-around linchpin sank two of her three first-half 3-pointers in the second quarter alone, adding six rebounds and an assist in the period. Rice, meanwhile, made both of her shots in the frame – including a triple of her own – to move to 7-of-9 from the field in the first 20 minutes.

But the Jaquez show was just getting started in the first half. 

The Camarillo local first capped off a 9-0 UCLA run with a defensive rebound and transition assist to Betts to open the third quarter.

Center Lauren Betts questions the referee after a call. The sophomore made her return to the court after a four-game hiatus. (Myka Fromm/Assistant Photo editor)

Then, after five consecutive points from the Wildcats cut the lead to 40-37, Jaquez carried the Bruins for the final 3:36 of the quarter.

Jaquez notched the final eight points of the third frame for UCLA, converting turnovers and long rebounds into fastbreak baskets.

After Jaquez’s first layup of the stretch, Betts shut down an Arizona shot attempt before finding Jaquez on the break. On a night where most went right for the forward, a miss didn’t deter her from drilling the put-back attempt. Jaquez ultimately reached double digits for the quarter as UCLA took a 48-43 lead into the fourth.

“We were just playing to win – shooting the shots that were open, especially later in the game,” Jaquez said. “Just fastbreak points and (being an) outlet for my teammates who were finding me.”

In crunchtime, the Bruins relied on their defense to clinch the victory.

UCLA ensured Arizona remained scoreless for almost four minutes of the final quarter to extend its lead to 52-43 with 6:07 to play. 

A 6-0 Wildcat run in less than 90 seconds scratched the Bruins’ lead to three, but more defense – and success from a struggling graduate student guard Charisma Osborne – came through.

Osborne ended her 0-of-6 shooting start with a midrange jumper to extend the lead to five. Then – two days before the Super Bowl – she launched a full-court pass to Jaquez, who finished the one-handed heave with another fastbreak layup.

Rice responded to her 3-of-13 performance on Sunday with 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting, while Jaquez poured in 21 points and added a career-high 15 rebounds in Betts’ long-awaited return.

Arizona converted just five of its 18 shots and missed all five of its 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, as UCLA overcame 20% shooting outside of Jaquez and Rice to respond to its 20-point loss to Stanford with a victory.

“We just played with a lot of joy today,” Jaquez said. “We were ready to bounce back.”

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Gavin Carlson | Sports staff
Carlson is currently a staff writer on the football, men's basketball and women's basketball beats. He was previously a reporter on the softball and men's golf beats.
Carlson is currently a staff writer on the football, men's basketball and women's basketball beats. He was previously a reporter on the softball and men's golf beats.
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