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Fouls, free throws send UCLA women’s basketball home with loss to LSU in Sweet 16

UCLA women’s basketball waves to the crowd after falling to LSU in the Sweet 16. (Eden Yu/Daily Bruin staff)

Women’s Basketball


No. 2 seed UCLA69
No. 3 seed LSU78

By Grace Whitaker

March 30, 2024 1:31 p.m.

This post was updated March 31 at 11:19 p.m.

ALBANY, NY — Title hopes surrounded the then-No. 2-ranked Bruins at the beginning of the season.

But in poetic fashion, it was the same sound that sent the Bruins walking in both postseason tournaments that gave them the opportunity to hoist a trophy.

With 39 seconds remaining, sophomore guard Kiki Rice was sent to the bench with her fifth foul, mirroring the waning seconds of the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals just 12 days earlier that left UCLA with yet another season in which it couldn’t finish.

“We are the better team, and I thought that we just didn’t show up today,” said sophomore center Lauren Betts.

After 45 fouls between the two schools, No. 2 seed UCLA women’s basketball (27-7, 13-5 Pac-12) was sent home early by the No. 3 seed and reigning national champion LSU (31-5, 13-3 SEC) by a score of 78-69 in the Sweet 16. Saturday’s contest would have been the first time since 2018 that the Bruins were able to make an Elite Eight appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

Coach Cori Close said this goes back to earlier losses that positioned them on the East Coast side of the bracket.

“There’s no excuses. We had this under our control,” Close said. “We could have not been in Albany. We lost some games that we shouldn’t have lost.”

Emerging from the halftime locker room, UCLA faced a deficit largely created by a 2-for-17 clip from deep and 10 turnovers throughout the second frame.

As the third quarter began, these woes did not subside.

Close called a myriad of plays to get sophomore Londynn Jones a shot from deep – who was 1-for-6 from behind the arc at that point – but the guard’s struggles persisted. She went 1-for-4 from that range across the first five minutes of the quarter.

Betts – standing at 6-foot-7 – screamed for the ball each time in the post. However, when she nabbed a possession, at least three Tiger guards crashed, eliminating the big from using her height advantage.

Betts said in addition to the tough defense LSU and its forward Angel Reese were imposing on her, she needed to find better touches in the paint in order to succeed offensively.
“It was just tough inside,” Betts said. “In the first half, she did a pretty good job guarding me. But … it’s up to us to create inside touches and everything.”

But Jones persisted, and the woes receded.

And the swish she was looking for followed suit.

“Confidence is a big thing and being a shooter,” Jones said. “Not only just shooting but just staying confident whether shots are falling, not falling.”

Locking in a pair of automatic baskets from deep, Jones capped off an 8-0 run across 79 seconds to take the Bruins’ first lead since the second quarter.

Sophomore center Lauren Betts keeps the ball away from two Tiger defenders. Betts was the only Bruin to notch a double with 14 points and 17 rebounds. (Eden Yu/Daily Bruin staff)

UCLA was back in it, and it would stay there – for the time being, at least.

With a pair of makes from the charity stripe, Reese knotted up the score, deadlocking it at 48 to enter the fourth and final frame.

In the fourth, with six people on the floor accumulating three or more fouls, the pair of programs had 10 minutes to prove their case for who belonged in the Elite Eight.

Off the bat, two and-one plays on both ends extended the score. And a missed extra point from LSU granted UCLA a slight one-point advantage. Shortly thereafter, Reese – the 2023 Final Four Most Outstanding Player – committed her fourth foul and was taken out of the game.

But with a collection of turnovers from the Bruins, the Tigers didn’t bat an eye.

UCLA was unable to inflate its total in the initial minutes without Reese on the floor, and LSU regained lost territory, knotting the score for the sixth time with just under seven to go.

Eventually, UCLA emerged on a 5-0 run, giving it a three-point lead. But the Bruins also faced a similar fate to the Tigers when Betts gained her fourth foul.

But in the final moments, free throws were the name of the game as nine fouls were added in the last two minutes.

And the one that proved the difference was an offensive foul on Rice, sending her to the bench.

And much like it was in the conference, the Bruins’ hopes of advancing went with her.

There goes the story of the Bruins.

“I would play this over and over in my head and try to figure out from my perspective how I could have led them better or different,” Close said. “You know, but you’re not going to win games in this level, giving up 30 points in the fourth quarter.”

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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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