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UCLA women’s basketball dominates Arizona State in last weekend of conference play

Sophomore center Lauren Betts dribbles down the court. Betts scored a floor-high 20 points while also grabbing 11 rebounds against Arizona State. (Megan Cai/Photo editor)

Women’s Basketball

No. 8 UCLA70
Arizona State41

By Gavin Carlson

Feb. 29, 2024 8:25 p.m.

This post was updated Feb. 29 at 11:17 p.m.

Both the AP and Coaches polls currently list UCLA as the eighth-best team in the country.

But after the Bruins learned Thursday evening that the committee responsible for NCAA tournament seeding ranked them even higher, they responded with a dominant performance on the road.

Hours after being ranked a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee current top-16 reveal, No. 8 UCLA women’s basketball (23-5, 12-5 Pac-12) defeated Arizona State (11-18, 3-14) by a score of 70-41 in Tempe on Thursday night. The Bruins earned the ranking in part because of a country-best seven wins against ranked opponents, but they overcame a slow start against the 11th team in the Pac-12 to remain tied for second in the conference standings.

Coach Cori Close said her team can’t afford to have similar poor starts with win-or-go-home postseason games quickly approaching.

“We realize that we have a great opportunity in front of us, but not the rest of the year can we come out with that lackluster effort and focus,” Close said. “That’s my responsibility to make sure that we’re ready to play, but the next time that happens, you’re done.”

Close’s side took longer than expected to prove its newfound status as one of the four best teams in the country, as the Bruins turned the ball over twice and missed a pair of jump shots on their first four possessions against the second-to-worst team in the Pac-12.

Even after breaking a more than two minute scoreless start with a 6-0 run in less than 90 seconds, UCLA then allowed a 6-0 run and trailed Arizona State 10-6 with less than four minutes left in the first quarter.

But the Bruins quickly returned to form and looked the part of a Final Four contender from there, outscoring the Sun Devils 23-6 over the next 10 minutes of game time to ignite their eventual blowout victory.

Behind five points from senior forward Angela Dugalić – including a 3-pointer in the closing seconds of the quarter – the Bruins ended the first frame on an 11-3 run.

Then UCLA opened the second quarter on a 12-3 run over the first 6 1/2 minutes of the period, as sophomore center Lauren Betts scored five of her 11 first-half points during the stretch. The Bruins’ run was capped off by a behind the back assist from Dugalić to a trailing sophomore guard Kiki Rice on a fastbreak.

Betts’ free throw on the ensuing possession completed UCLA’s stretch of play that turned a 10-6 deficit into a 29-16 lead with 3:30 left in the first half.

Minutes later, graduate student guard Charisma Osborne used a nifty hesitation move and left hand finish in the closing seconds to end her scoreless drought. With the crafty driving layup, she eclipsed 2,200 career points and gave the Bruins a 33-21 lead at halftime.

Sophomore guard Kiki Rice dribbles past a defender. Rice scored 14 points, dished out seven assists and grabbed seven rebounds against the Sun Devils. (Megan Cai/Photo editor)

After the break, Betts continued her dominant response to her season-low two-point performance in Monday’s win against Colorado. The 6-foot-7 big was too much for the Sun Devils to handle, scoring five consecutive points to reach 16 for the game and cap off an 8-2 start to the second half for UCLA.

“Obviously, a big difference from the last game and this game,” Betts said. “They (my guards) just did a really good job of finding me. The coaches have kept me accountable with getting strong seals and not letting people in front of me, and I thought I did a good job with that today.”

The Bruins briefly reverted back to the team that turned the ball over 24 times and scored just 53 points in their previous game, as UCLA committed six turnovers in the third period and went through a near five-minute scoring drought.

But Close’s team responded to a 6-0 Sun Devil run with a 7-0 run of its own over the final 1:46. As she did to end the first half, Osborne beat the third quarter buzzer with another driving layup on the left side of the basket, this time giving UCLA a 48-28 lead heading into the fourth.

Rather than cruising the rest of the way, the Bruins saved their best offensive period for last and used a 22-point fourth quarter to briefly push the lead over 30. Betts finished the contest with 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting and 11 rebounds – her ninth double-double of the season – while Rice added 14 points, seven assists and seven rebounds.

With the win, UCLA remains in contention for a first-round bye in next week’s Pac-12 Tournament and can clinch that with a victory in the regular season finale at Arizona on Saturday.

But in light of Monday evening’s top-16 reveal and ensuing victory in Tempe, the Bruins will be playing to protect their current NCAA Tournament No. 1-seed status over the next two weeks as well.

“We know we still have one game at a time to handle – we’re going to finish out this conference weekend and then focus on the Pac-12 tournament,” Rice said. “But we know that if we can get what we need to get done, then we should be a 1-seed, and that’s the motivation.”

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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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