Alexander: For the UCLA women, a rough end to a magnificent season

The word that UCLA women’s basketball coach Cori Close said defined her team in 2020-21 was “perspective.”

It’s hard to keep that perspective when your season ends so suddenly, and emphatically, in the NCAA Tournament. A dreadful second quarter, including a 6:20 scoring drought, forced the Bruins to chase the game Wednesday night, and a 1-for-19 3-point shooting night was their albatross as they attempted to rally.

But after a 71-62 loss to Texas at San Antonio’s Alamodome ended their journey one stop short of the Sweet 16, Close reflected on the things that made this collection of players special, the things that she will miss most.

It was a weird season for everybody but it was especially challenging for UCLA (17-6), which played with a short roster all season. Players were hurt, and players who were expected to join the Bruins couldn’t. That included Australian players Izzy Anstey and Gemma Potter, part of a group of athletes who went to court to try to overturn a decision that deferred their immigration certification – and basically kept them out of the country – because their school wasn’t holding in-person classes. The suit was dismissed earlier this month, and by then Potter had given up and signed with an Australian professional team.

The Bruins’ postseason roster was 10 players, and one of those, Dominique Darius, joined at mid-year shortly after her high school graduation.

“There’s no way to put all this into words, this unprecedented year,” Close said, ticking off their late start (Sept. 21) and the players who were unavailable. But then she got to the heart of the story:

“This team just never, never had any excuses. Things just kept happening and they just kept staying committed. I asked them to do two things all year. I asked them to find ways, as nontraditional as they might be, to grow each day, to intentionally grow, and to bring joy despite the circumstances. We were going to choose joy, no matter what.

“And as I sat there tonight,” she added, choking back tears, “I looked at ’em and I had to say, ‘You did your part.’ They kept finding ways to grow. They kept finding ways to give to each other and to bring joy, the way they impacted the people around them, the way they invested in each other, in our community, through the issues of the pandemic and the sacrifices they made. … Right now it just stings so much, but I think when we are able to really look back and have some perspective, we’re going to have a lot of victories to count.”

A prime example came from UCLA’s best player, Michaela Onyenwere, and it had nothing to do with points or rebounds. It was during a practice at the University of Texas before the Bruins’ first-round game against Wyoming. And it came at a time when the NCAA was catching all sorts of flak from those both inside the game and out, because of the severe differences between what the women’s players and teams were provided and what the men were getting in Indianapolis.

Yet as Close described it, Onyenwere graciously stopped and thanked the administrators on-site for their efforts to make it work.

“That’s Michaela,” Close said. “She’s an incredible basketball player … the years ahead of her are going to be unbelievable, and she’s just scratching the surface of how good she’s going to be. But the most amazing thing about her is it’s not even close to the kind of person she is, the kind of teammate she is, the kind of woman she is. And I just feel like I’m the luckiest head coach in the country, that I got the chance to be a part of her life.”

Onyenwere’s 21 points Wednesday night moved her into fourth on UCLA’s all-time women’s scoring list behind Denise Curry (3,198), Jordin Canada (2,153) and Maylana Martin (2,101). She’s a senior but could come back for another year by NCAA edict, and said she would make that decision “soon.” But she was choking back sobs during her brief media availability.

“I think UCLA has had everything to do with the player that I am and the person that I am today,” she said. “As Coach Cori said, this game doesn’t define our season and how hard we work, and just how tough we had to be this year. So I’m incredibly proud of my team this year. I’m incredibly proud to have the honor to go to UCLA and have the experiences that I did.

“Yeah, today was rough. But I’m extremely grateful for everything that UCLA has given me.”

UCLA is 143-50 over the last six seasons, playing in as rugged a women’s basketball conference as there is. The job now is to build on that, but Close made it clear it won’t be just about basketball.

“We’re also going to relentlessly create an uncommon transformational experience for young women that teaches, mentors and equips them for life beyond UCLA, and that will never be compromised,” she said.

“I want our players to have both. I want them to be able to hang banners and I want them to be able to experience competitive greatness. But I want it to always be as a byproduct of the work that’s done in the dark, and the work that comes from within and then overflows into what happens out on the court.”

The banners are indeed important. But when your players leave campus prepared to not only handle life but to lead, those are victories, too.

jalexander@scng.com

@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

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UCLA women’s basketball feels well prepared for Wyoming

The UCLA women’s basketball team is used to dealing with the bare minimum this season, having a shortened bench of eight players, give or take. But bare minimum took on a whole new meaning after the Bruins saw the women’s designated weight room for the NCAA Tournament.

True to the images circulating on social media, the women’s teams were given a spartan arrangement, with a rack of dumbbells and sanitized yoga mats. Meanwhile, the men’s teams were given a large room filled with benches, squat racks — any equipment that might be required.

An effective work environment is essential in any occupation, but for teams like UCLA, which will play Wyoming in the first round of the tournament on Monday, the NCAA’s setup didn’t cut it.

“Different programs do different things for different weight programs,” said senior Michaela Onyenwere. “We might be different than the next team and how we’re going to use that room, but we didn’t really even have a choice because we didn’t have the resources because we were an afterthought.”

For the Bruins’ small roster, the weight room won’t affect the postseason regiment too much. They’re also trying not to be bothered by the differences in food quality, swag bag items and other external factors related to the tournament as they prepare for Wyoming.

UCLA earned the No. 3 seed in the Hemisfair Region on an at-large bid after finishing as runner-up behind Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Tournament. Wyoming, the No. 14-seed, won the Mountain West Tournament as a No. 7 seed and is riding a six-game win streak heading into the NCAA Tournament.

It will be the first meeting between the Bruins (16-5) and the Cowgirls (14-9), but Coach Cori Close feels well prepared for any situation after the Pac-12 season.

“When we started talking about their sort of spread offense and their motion offense, we were able to say OK, it’s sort of like Colorado in this way, it’s like Utah in this way,” she said. “We just have such vast styles of play in the Pac-12, but it’s at such a high level, so you’re already forced to be exposed to so many things.”

McKinley Bradshaw leads Wyoming in scoring with 11.5 points per game and is 33-for-79 from beyond the arc. Quinn Weidemann and Alba Sanchez Ramos each have double-digit scoring averages as well, with Weidemann clicking at 11 ppg and Sanchez Ramos at 10.1 ppg in addition to a team-high 6.1 rebounds per game.

Onyenwere is UCLA’s top-scoring player. Her 18.7 ppg have helped move her to sixth in program history in career points with 1,842. In terms of scoring this season, she’s followed by Charisma Osborne (17 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and Natalie Chou (10 ppg, 4.3 rpg).

Tipoff for the Bruins’ first-round game is set for Monday at 7 p.m. on ESPN at the Frank Irwin Center in Austin, Texas. No matter how small the weight room or how limited the food selection and quality, Close expects her team to remain focused.

“What I don’t want to have happen is any of the extraneous things on the outside to distract from this incredible experience that these student-athletes have worked so hard for,” Close said. “So, I’m excited to compete, to get better and to continue to enjoy with great gratitude.”

UCLA (16-5) vs. Wyoming (14-9)

When: 7 p.m. Monday

Where: Frank Irwin Center, Austin, Texas

TV: ESPN

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UCLA women close out Arizona to reach Pac-12 Tournament title game

  • Arizona guard Aari McDonald dives for a loose ball as UCLA guard Charisma Osborne, left, and forward Michaela Onyenwere defend during the first half of Friday night’s Pac-12 Tournament semifinal in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • UCLA forward Emily Bessoir (11) shoots as Arizona guard Aari McDonald (2) defends during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Pac-12 women’s tournament Friday, March 5, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • UCLA forward Michaela Onyenwere (21) shoots as Arizona forward Lauren Ware (32) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Pac-12 women’s tournament Friday, March 5, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • UCLA forward Lauryn Miller (33) and Arizona forward Cate Reese (25) fight for control of the ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Pac-12 women’s tournament Friday, March 5, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • UCLA guard Lindsey Corsaro (4) shoots as Arizona guard Bendu Yeaney (23) defends during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Pac-12 women’s tournament Friday, March 5, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • Arizona guard Aari McDonald (2) shoots as UCLA forward Emily Bessoir defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Pac-12 women’s tournament Friday, March 5, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • UCLA forward Michaela Onyenwere shoots during the second half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Arizona in the semifinals of the Pac-12 women’s tournament Friday, March 5, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • Arizona forward Sam Thomas (14) shoots as UCLA guard Natalie Chou (23) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Pac-12 women’s tournament Friday, March 5, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • UCLA forward Michaela Onyenwere (21) shoots as Arizona forward Trinity Baptiste (0) defends during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Pac-12 women’s tournament Friday, March 5, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • UCLA forward Michaela Onyenwere (21) shoots over Arizona forward Cate Reese (25) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Pac-12 women’s tournament Friday, March 5, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • The Arizona bench reacts after a teammate’s 3-point shot during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against UCLA in the semifinals of the Pac-12 women’s tournament Friday, March 5, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • UCLA guard Chantel Horvat (0) celebrates a teammate’s 3-point against Arizona during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Pac-12 women’s tournament Friday, March 5, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

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Michaela Onyenwere dribbled the ball hard and fast, crossed the court in nearly a full sprint and pounded the ball off the backboard when she went in for a layup.

Onyenwere scored 24 points and that late-game moment helped the UCLA women’s basketball team stave off a fourth-quarter rally by Arizona, 58-49, on Friday night to reach the Pac-12 Tournament championship game at Mandalay Bay’s Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas.

The third-seeded Bruins (16-4) will play top-seeded Stanford (24-2) for the conference title on Sunday at 5 p.m.

The Bruins overcame an off-shooting night in the semifinals and a late push from second-seeded Arizona (16-5), which carved into a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to get within two with a little more than a minute left. That’s when Onyenwere made her coast-to-coast layup to begin a 9-2 UCLA run over the final 1:04.

“Today I just wanted to really focus on being really steady,” Onyenwere said. “I think yesterday I could have done a better job of that, so I wanted to come in and do what I need to do for my team, whether that meant drive to the basket, getting rebounds or whatever I needed to do.”

Natalie Chou added seven points, six rebounds and three steals for UCLA, including a key defensive rebound and free throw during the Bruins’ last surge. Charisma Osborne also had seven points, four in the final 23 seconds.

“Natalie has gone from defining herself as just a shooter to being a great basketball player, a multifaceted, versatile playmaker,” UCLA coach Cori Close said. “It wasn’t about stats tonight; it was about doing whatever our team needed to win the game. That’s exactly what Charisma Osborne did.”

Emily Bessoir added six points and seven rebounds for UCLA, which lost 68-65 at Arizona in their lone meeting during the regular season.

Pac-12 Player of the Year Aari McDonald led Arizona with 24 points and eight rebounds.

One night after the Bruins limited Washington to a season-low 46 points in the quarterfinals, they held Arizona to its lowest output – 18½ points below its season average of 67.5 per game. The Wildcats’ previous low was 59 in a nine-point victory over Cal on Feb. 19.

“We really wanted to focus on being super steady,” Onyenwere said. “We knew there were going to be ups and downs, lefts and rights with Arizona. They’re a great team and they like to take you out of rhythm on offense and on defense. Our keyword was to stay steady. They went on that run in the fourth quarter. And every single huddle and timeout we were like, ‘Look, stay steady. They’re going to make their run. Stay steady.’”

Neither team came out with any sort of rhythm, as UCLA was a dismal 3 for 16 from the floor in the first quarter while Arizona shot just 4 for 10. The Bruins’ relentless pressure on the ball, led by Chou’s two steals, forced the Wildcats into six turnovers in the opening period.

But as UCLA began to find a groove, Arizona’s struggles carried into the second quarter after the Wildcats took a 13-10 lead on Cate Reese’s short jumper. They fell into an 0-for-10 drought from the floor over the final 9:13 of the first half. UCLA took advantage by shooting 8 for 14 down the stretch and using a 15-4 run to take a 25-17 lead into the locker room. Onyenwere had 10 points and two steals in the first half, while the Bruins limited Arizona to a 1-for-6 showing from 3-point range.

Looking to give her team a spark, McDonald struggled while taking many of Arizona’s shots on offense. She went 1 for 6 in the second quarter, and 2 for 9 in the first half. Only one other Wildcats player had two attempts in the second period, and nobody else took more than three shots in the opening half.

McDonald finished 8 for 24, while no other Arizona player had more than seven attempts. Arizona forward Sam Thomas came in shooting 53% from 3-point range over her last nine games, but she took just two shots from deep and made one.

“I think both teams struggled offensively, because we both played solid defense,” said Arizona coach Adia Barnes, whose team now waits to find out where it will be seeded for the NCAA Tournament later this month.

Osborne had scored in double figures in 12 straight games and brought a 17.8 scoring average into Friday night, but the sophomore guard finished 1 for 12 from the floor in 35 minutes.

Now, the Bruins turn their focus to Stanford. The teams split their regular-season meetings, with the Cardinal winning, 61-49, in Westwood and the Bruins winning the rematch, 70-66, which was played in Santa Cruz because of COVID-19 restrictions in Santa Clara County at the time.

“We made a commitment in the locker room that we won’t speak of this (Arizona) game after 11 p.m.,” Close said. “We’re very focused on putting our energy and our time into being ready to prepare and to get our mind and hearts right, but tomorrow is going to be much more mental.”

In the other semifinal …

Cameron Brink scored a career-high 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead Stanford to a 79-45 victory over Oregon State. Brink, a freshman, finished 9 for 13 from the floor while adding four blocked shots. Kiana Williams had 20 points, six rebounds and six assists for Stanford (24-2). Lexie Hull contributed 12 points and seven rebounds, and Hannah Jump added 10 points and five boards.

Aleah Goodman scored 12 points and Taylor Jones pulled down 13 rebounds to lead Oregon State (11-7), which was playing its third tournament game in three days.

News services contributed to this story.

.@monyenwere_ powers to the rim! Bruins back up four! 🏀

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📻| https://t.co/FORzK0ZVaQ#GoBruins | 🐻💙💛 | #Pac12WBB pic.twitter.com/0lJWgEtNrL

— UCLA W. Basketball (@UCLAWBB) March 6, 2021

“If you want to be successful at the highest level, you have to be the tougher, more together team” — @CoachCoriClose

Coach Close’s postgame interview included some analysis of tonight’s win and praise for the wonderful coverage provided by @Pac12Network! ⤵pic.twitter.com/0i7124cROb

— UCLA W. Basketball (@UCLAWBB) March 6, 2021

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UCLA women hold off Washington to reach Pac-12 Tournament semis

  • UCLA guard Charisma Osborne shoots a layup during the first half of Thursday’s Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal against Washington in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • Washington center Darcy Rees defends as UCLA forward Lauryn Miller passes the ball during the first half of Thursday’s Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • UCLA guard Chantel Horvat is defended by Washington forward Khayla Rooks during the first half of Thursday’s Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • UCLA guard Natalie Chou shoots as Washington guard Tameiya Sadler defends during the first half of Thursday’s Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • Washington guard Tameiya Sadler shoots as UCLA forward Lauryn Miller, right, defends during the second half of Thursday’s Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • Washington guard Tameiya Sadler drives as UCLA guard Charisma Osborne defends during the second half of Thursday’s Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • Washington center Quay Miller shoots as UCLA guard Chantel Horvat defends during the second half of Thursday’s Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • Washington center Quay Miller reacts after a foul call during the second half of Thursday’s Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal against UCLA in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • Washington center Darcy Rees passes the ball as UCLA guard Chantel Horvat defends during the second half of Thursday’s Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

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After getting outscored in two straight quarters, the UCLA women’s basketball team needed a strong fourth quarter to finish off Washington and secure a trip to the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals.

But the Bruins didn’t just needs points, they needed what Coach Cori Close calls “passion plays.”

Charisma Osborne and Michaela Onyenwere turned it on in the final quarter as the third-seeded Bruins beat the 11th-seeded Huskies, 58-46, in a quarterfinal on Thursday night at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas.

“We are a much-improved shooting team than we were a year ago, but it is still not the preeminent part of our success,” Close said. “Our success is built on defense, rebounding and passion plays. And passion plays are non-statistical hustle plays that we believe are the intangibles that lead us to high levels of play and help us survive bad shooting nights.”

Onyenwere scored six of her 12 points in the fourth quarter and Charisma Osborne also had 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Bruins (15-4), while Lauryn Miller had nine points and Natalie Chou added seven.

UCLA will meet second-seeded Arizona (16-4) in a semifinal on Friday at 8 p.m. Arizona defeated seventh-seeded Washington State, 60-44, on Thursday.

Top-seeded Stanford (23-2), which throttled eighth-seeded USC, 92-53, will face fifth-seeded Oregon State (11-6) in Friday’s 5 p.m. semifinal. The Beavers upset fourth-seeded Oregon, 71-64.

UCLA staved off upset-minded Washington (7-14), which pulled within three early in the fourth but couldn’t gain enough momentum to seize control of the game.

After cutting the Bruins’ lead to 44-41 with 8:22 left, but under UCLA’s defensive pressure, the Huskies missed their next four shots and turned the ball over on another possession. Washington’s only points during a crucial five-minute stretch came from two free throws by Tameiya Sadler.

Meanwhile, the Bruins hit five consecutive shots from the field, added a couple of free throws, and used a 12-2 run to open a 56-43 lead with 2:52 left and never looked back.

“Tonight we weren’t shooting our best and that’s what we kept talking about in the huddles, ‘Okay, y’all, we know it’s a battle right now on the offensive end but let’s get stops,’” Onyenwere said. “That’s something we can do all the time. When we’re able to run like that it’s so fun to play with my teammates. I think that’s kind of where we kind of turned it around and kind of flipped that switch.

“At the end of the day we found a way, and moving forward we’re gonna go into (the game against) Arizona, kind of figure out what we need to do to get a win there, but yeah, I’m proud of my team for just sticking it out and winning this one.”

The Bruins outscored Washington in the paint, 32-26, and 10-5 on second-chance points.

It looked as if UCLA was going to put the game away early, as the Bruins held Washington scoreless for more than four minutes and without a field goal for nearly six, during a first-period stretch that saw them use an 11-0 run to build a 16-5 lead.

Emily Bessoir gave the Bruins a 15-point lead just moments into the second quarter with a long 3-pointer, but Washington turned the tables and capitalized on seven turnovers by UCLA, which also shot just 25% from the field in the second quarter.

The Huskies used a 13-0 run over more than seven minutes to pull within two before UCLA’s Lindsey Corsaro made a 3-pointer and moments later a layup, putting UCLA ahead by five for a halftime lead of 30-25.

Chou’s defense late in the third quarter helped thwart another Huskies rally, as she recorded three steals in less than two minutes, one of which allowed the Bruins to extend their lead to five, at 42-37.

The Bruins missed nine of their last 11 shots in the first half. They looked like the complete opposite of a team that just registered a pair of record-breaking shooting performances in their previous two games, most recently against USC on Feb. 26, when they went 16 for 23 from 3-point range (69.6%), the most 3-pointers in a single game in program history. On Thursday, UCLA finished 2 for 18 (11.1%) from beyond the arc.

“We’re not a live-by-the-three, die-by-the-three kind of team,” Close said. “We just needed to be a lot more poised and go ‘Hey, you know what, let’s not take the first open three.”

Quay Miller had a game-high 19 points on 9-for-16 shooting with seven rebounds for Washington, while Sadler chipped in 12 points.

Washington coach Jody Wynn said the Huskies were dealt their biggest blow when leading scorer Haley Van Dyke couldn’t return to the game in the second half after hitting her head on the court. Van Dyke, who averages 12.5 points and 6 rebounds per game, had just two points in 17 minutes in the first half.

“Haley’s led us all year long,” Wynn said. “She’s led us from the moment she showed up on campus in the Fall. She’s one of our most experienced players. When she went down and wasn’t able to come back to the court with us and fight, it kind of rattled us for a little bit.”

Sadler, a freshman guard, was the Huskies’ most well-rounded player in a 68-54 first-round upset of No. 6 seed Colorado, as she scored 18 points with a career-high eight assists and three steals.

The tournament championship game is Sunday at 5 p.m. (ESPN2).

News services contributed to this story.

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Alexander: UCLA’s Michaela Onyenwere delivers on emotional Senior Night

Michaela Onyenwere tried her best not to let her emotions get the best of her Friday night. It was Senior Night for the UCLA women’s basketball program, albeit a virtual one – parents and family members celebrated with their daughters via the video board at Pauley Pavilion, rather than in person – but it was still the last home game, four years of triumphs and struggles distilled into 40 minutes against crosstown rival USC.

This night it was triumphs, overwhelmingly.

The Bruins smoked the Trojans, 93-51, and the 29-12 second quarter with which UCLA took control was the launching pad for a 30-point night for Onyenwere, with 12 points including two 3-pointers. She went on to make all six of her tries from beyond the arc, and she also grabbed eight rebounds to complement sophomore Charisma Osborne’s triple-double (18 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists).

Onyenwere’s 30 points in 30 minutes gave her 1,776 in 118 career games and enabled her to climb two spots on UCLA’s all-time scoring list, moving into ninth past Anita Ortega and Monique Billings.

And when it was over, and emotions could be released without fear, Onyenwere was the one consoling fellow senior Lauryn Miller on the bench when she was overcome by the moment. That, too, is part of the package that has enabled her to enrich UCLA’s program over the last four seasons.

“I wrote (her players) all letters today and I pretty much cried through writing all of them,” Coach Cori Close said. “With Michaela, I told her, ‘You are one of the top players to ever play at UCLA.’ But the thing that makes it most special is that that’s not what she values most. She values the experience, how she’s grown, how she’s impacted people. But it makes it really easy to celebrate her, right? And it really makes it easy to root for her.

“So obviously, yeah, I think (a night like this) was very fitting.”

Onyenwere arrived at UCLA as a Colorado’s High School Player of the Year and a McDonald’s All-American, which made her hardly unusual in a high-profile college program. But she made good on her promise when she got to Westwood. She has played in all but one game in four seasons, and she stepped up to be a leader when Billings and Jordin Canada left for the WNBA after her freshman season, leaving her comfort zone to speak up when necessary.

(That even meant correcting the pronunciation of her name that everyone had been butchering her first two seasons. The Bruins’ media literature now lists the pronunciation as OWN-yen-WED-ay.)

The Bruins have more work to do, beginning with the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas next week and then another crack at the NCAA Tournament. But Onyenwere almost certainly will follow Billings and Canada to the next level.

“I still don’t think she’s shown everything she is and that she can do,” said Miller, her teammate through this entire journey. “There’s just no ceiling to her game. And it’s just been so fun to watch her blossom. It’s really just a matter of when she’s confident enough to do something, because everything’s in the toolbox. She’s going to have the work ethic to obtain whatever isn’t as sharp as it needs to be.

“Whatever Michaela wants to obtain, she’s going to do. Whatever she wants to accomplish, she’s going to accomplish it. Yeah, I wish I could act surprised, but I’m not in the least.”

USC coach Mark Trakh almost certainly will be delighted to see her go to the WNBA. He cited her athletic gifts – her father, Peter Onyenwere, was an Olympic sprinter for Nigeria – and said those are complimented by her effort and drive.

“It’s a combination of things,” she said. “It’s her heart, it’s her effort. She’s got the whole package.

“Tonight she shot the three. That turnaround jumper’s unstoppable. You know, I don’t know (anyone) outside of anybody that plays in the NBA that can get up there and block that. She’s a great player, and I’m sure she’s going to have a great professional career.”

First, there was that Senior Night obstacle. It turns out the basketball was the easy part.

“I’m not an emotional person, really, so I’ve been just trying to relish the moment,” Onyenwere said afterward. “They played a video earlier with our parents and people who care about us saying nice things about us, and that almost got me, honestly. And Lauryn made a video of us, too. We came in together, so she made a video of us, and that almost got me, too. So I’ve been almost on the verge of tears, but not yet. Nobody’s got me yet.

“I’m so grateful to be able to have this moment, to have this opportunity. And like I’ve said before, I would never have picked another place. I know I picked the right place, coming to UCLA. I’m just so grateful. I’m so thankful. But I do know we have a lot of basketball left. So I think that’s what’s keeping me up, keeping me happy and not so sad today.”

The trick to surviving Senior Night, then, might be looking to the future.

jalexander@scng.com

@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

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Charisma Osborne, No. 6 UCLA women hold off No. 5 Stanford

  • UCLA guard Charisma Osborne glides past Stanford guard Anna Wilson on her way to the basket during the first half of Friday’s game in Santa Cruz. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

  • UCLA forward Emily Bessoir (11) vies for the ball between Stanford forward Cameron Brink (22) and guard Lexie Hull (12) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Santa Cruz, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. UCLA won 70-66. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

  • UCLA forward Michaela Onyenwere (21) drives with the ball against Stanford guard Haley Jones (30) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Santa Cruz, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

  • UCLA guard Charisma Osborne, left, and Stanford guard Lexie Hull vie for possession of the ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Santa Cruz, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

  • Stanford guard Lexie Hull (12) shoots over UCLA guard Natalie Chou (23) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Santa Cruz, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

  • UCLA forward Michaela Onyenwere (21) shoots against Stanford during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Santa Cruz, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

  • Stanford guard Lacie Hull (24) drives to the basket against UCLA forward Michaela Onyenwere (21) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Santa Cruz, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

  • UCLA guard Charisma Osborne (20) takes a three-point shot against Stanford guard Anna Wilson (3) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Santa Cruz, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

  • UCLA forward Michaela Onyenwere, right, shoots over Stanford forward Cameron Brink (22) and guard Lacie Hull (24) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Santa Cruz, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

  • Stanford guard Kiana Williams (23) shoots over UCLA guard Charisma Osborne (20) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Santa Cruz, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

  • UCLA guard Charisma Osborne (20) shoots over Stanford guard Lexie Hull, left, and forward Alyssa Jerome (10) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Santa Cruz, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

  • UCLA head coach Cori Close yells to her players during the first half against Stanford in an NCAA college basketball game in Santa Cruz, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

  • UCLA forward Michaela Onyenwere (21) passes the ball against Stanford guard Lacie Hull (24) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Santa Cruz, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

  • Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer talks with guard Kiana Williams (23) during a timeout in the second half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against UCLA in Santa Cruz, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

  • Stanford forward Francesca Belibi (5) drives to the basket against UCLA forward Lauryn Miller (33) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Santa Cruz, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. UCLA won 70-66. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

  • UCLA forward Michaela Onyenwere (21) is fouled by Stanford guard Lacie Hull (24) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Santa Cruz, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. UCLA won 70-66. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

  • UCLA guard Natalie Chou, center, works for the ball against Stanford forward Cameron Brink, right, and guard Kiana Williams, left, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Santa Cruz, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. UCLA won 70-66. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

  • UCLA guard Charisma Osborne (20) celebrates the team’s 70-66 victory over Stanford in an NCAA college basketball game in Santa Cruz, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

  • UCLA’s Emily Bessoir, left, Charisma Osborne (20), Michaela Onyenwere and Chantel Horvat, right, celebrate the team’s 70-66 victory over Stanford in an NCAA college basketball game in Santa Cruz, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

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The pressure the UCLA women’s basketball team faced on Friday night was considerable, but the Bruins withstood it – and at times thrived under it – as they handed Stanford its second straight loss.

“A lot of people talk about how we don’t have a lot of players and there’s only eight or nine of us, and we don’t really worry about that,” Charisma Osborne said. “I’m just really proud of how my team played, and how everyone came out and just was so tough.”

Osborne had 24 points, nine rebounds and three steals and sixth-ranked UCLA handed No. 5 Stanford its second straight loss, 70-66, on Friday night at Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz. Michaela Onyenwere added 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Bruins (9-2, 7-2 Pac-12), Natalie Chou had 12 points and five rebounds, and Emily Bessoir added 11 points.

UCLA blew an 11-point lead in the second half, and the score was knotted three times in the fourth quarter, Stanford rallying to tie it for the last time at 66 with 1:47 remaining. Osborne hit two free throws with 1:23 remaining to put the Bruins back in front for good.

The Cardinal had a chance to tie or win in the final seconds, but Francesca Belibi committed the team’s 14th turnover with 13 seconds left and UCLA put the game away at the free-throw line, Osborne and Onyenwere each making one.

“I wanted to come out in this game and really just play freely and just play how I play,” Osborne said. “Credit to my teammates for giving me a pep talk before the game when we were getting ready and just telling me that no one can guard me and giving me a lot of confidence.”

It was Osborne’s fourth consecutive game logging at least 20 points.

“I just hugged her so tight after the game,” UCLA coach Cori Close said, “and just was like, ‘Look, you did it. You lived it. You earned the confidence now, of what it means to be an elite player in big games on both sides of the ball on the road. I can’t give you that confidence – you’ve got to earn it – but you sure earned a whole lot of confidence tonight.’”

“Everyone on our team knows it’s not about ‘me,’ it’s about ‘us,’” Close praised. “I just thought there was so much selflessness on display tonight. That was the difference in the game – our toughness, togetherness, and our selflessness to be able to play whatever role is needed.”

Early, Stanford (11-2, 8-2) appeared eager for a bounce-back performance after the then-top-ranked Cardinal, lost 77-72 in overtime at Colorado on Sunday, but UCLA was able to match its brisk pace through the opening quarter and capitalized on Stanford mistakes when it mattered most. Osborne turned a takeaway into a layup, then drained a deep 3-pointer to cut Stanford’s lead to 9-8 near the 7:20 mark.

The Cardinal forced the Bruins to the perimeter for many of their shots in the first quarter. Freshman Emily Bessoir hit a 3-pointer to tie the score at 11-11, but Stanford was able to pull away for a 20-15 lead.

UCLA responded in the second quarter. Onyenwere made a layup, then hit another just as the shot clock expired to tie it at 27-all. An Osborne 3-pointer gave the Bruins the lead again with 5:40 left and they held a 41-36 advantage at halftime.

UCLA kept its rhythm in the third quarter – when Onyenwere fell hard on her elbow – and led by seven points heading into the fourth.

Kiana Williams led the Cardinal, who lost consecutive games for just the fourth time since 2010, with 19 points and five assists. Belibi had 14 points, Haley Jones added 12 points and five rebounds, and Lexie Hull had 11 points and six rebounds.

The Bruins won their fourth straight game and improved to 3-2 against ranked opponents. They dominated the boards, outrebounding Stanford 44-31, including a 21-7 advantage on the offensive glass, translating to an 18-6 edge in second-chance points.

UP NEXT

UCLA hosts Arizona State next Friday. The Bruins were scheduled to play at Cal on Sunday afternoon, but that game was postponed due to COVID-19 developments within the Cal program.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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UCLA women defeat Colorado, can earn No. 2 seed on Sunday

LOS ANGELES — Having lost two of its previous four games, the UCLA women’s basketball team knew things had to change during its final homestand of the regular season. Sluggish starts brought on by shooting slumps were leading to mental lapses throughout games that allowed opponents to linger deep into games.

“We haven’t been having as much fun because we know deep down we haven’t been playing as well as we need to,” UCLA coach Cori Close said.

The ninth-ranked Bruins went into Friday night’s game against Colorado determined to play better, smarter and more as a team, knowing these last few games would have a significant impact on their seeding for the Pac-12 Tournament and beyond. And when the final buzzer sounded following the Bruins’ 62-52 victory, Close knew her team had done just that.

“I don’t think it was really anything different for us, I just think it was us focusing better,” Close said. “Us executing the game plan better. Us focusing on our strengths and what we needed to do to play to our bests. … That’s a step in the right direction.”

UCLA (24-4 overall, 13-4 Pac-12) moved into a tie for second place with fourth-ranked Stanford and owns the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Cardinal (24-5, 13-4). Defeat Utah (13-15, 6-11) in Sunday afternoon’s regular-season finale, and the Bruins secure the No. 2 seed for the conference tournament.

Avoiding a fourth-place finish comes with the perk of remaining on the opposite side of the bracket from top seed Oregon (27-2, 16-1). As the No. 2 or 3 seed, the Bruins could only face the third-ranked Ducks in the championship game. Arizona (23-5, 12-5) is in fourth and closes its season against last-place Cal on Sunday in Tucson.

“Honestly, I don’t think it means much to me,” said Japreece Dean, who had 12 points on Friday. “I know it’s better for us in the Pac-12 and who we play, but I’m not too focused on where we are.”

UCLA was led by junior forward Michaela Onyenwere with 16 points. In her first game back after sitting out two games with an injury, redshirt junior guard Natalie Chou had 10 points, four rebounds and three blocked shots. Freshman guard Camryn Brown tied her career-high with eight points in 22 minutes, as the Bruins posted their first wire-to-wire win in Pac-12 play this season.

“Obviously starts have been a real struggle for us and so it was nice to have our best quarter be our first quarter,” Close said. “I was really pleased with how we got more high-percentage shots, we finished better, we let our offense create easier opportunities tonight. … (I’m) really proud of a lot of people who stepped up.”

UCLA played well defensively, holding Colorado to 23 points in the first half, though the teams combined for 36 turnovers. Colorado (16-12, 5-12) made more mistakes, unforced and otherwise, with 19 turnovers. The Bruins were sloppy as well with 17 turnovers but had control of the game throughout in bouncing back from Sunday’s 74-68 loss at Washington.

UCLA led 20-8 in the first quarter, as the Buffaloes had six turnovers and shot just 27.3 percent from the field, going scoreless for a stretch of nearly six minutes.

“We know that defense is our anchor,” Brown said. “When we lock in on defense and we’re super energetic and really focused on the defensive end, it really calms us down on the offensive end. It makes our shots a lot easier and we get to go with the flow.”

UCLA led 24-10 at one point but made just three field goals in the second quarter, and Colorado used nine second-chance points to cut the deficit to 31-23 by halftime.

“I didn’t like how we turned the ball over in the second quarter,” Close said. “But I really liked our response. After the first two in the third, we only turned it over six times the rest of the half. That’s much more characteristic of who we are. I do like the 18 assists. We haven’t had that in a while, and I’m confident we’re going to take care of the ball better.”

UCLA indeed opened the third quarter with back-to-back turnovers, allowing Colorado to get within six points. But an Onyenwere layup helped the Bruins find their energy, and a 9-0 run gave UCLA its biggest lead at 42-27 with 5:32 left in the third. Dean took a key charge early in that spurt and Charisma Osborne hit a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession. Dean made a layup for the 15-point lead.

Whenever Colorado attempted to get back in the game, Brown was there with a response. In the final minute of the third quarter, she rebounded an Osborne miss and scored, then she scored the opening basket of the fourth quarter to keep the margin at 12.

“My teammates have always just given me that confidence in practice,” Brown said. “I just wanted to come out here and be the spark that my teammates needed wherever they needed me to be.”

Mya Hollingshed cut the margin to seven with a 3-pointer with 5:43 left, but Dean answered with another layup to make it 56-47. Neither team scored for more than two minutes, then the Bruins rattled off four in a row to go up 11 with 1:15 left and they closed it out from there.

Hollingshed had a game-high 22 points for Colorado, which has lost 11 straight against the Bruins.

UP NEXT

UCLA closes its regular season on Sunday at 1 p.m. when it faces Utah. Before the game, the Bruins will recognize their two seniors, Dean and Ally Rosenblum.

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No. 10 UCLA women outlast No. 6 Stanford to stay in Pac-12 race

STANFORD — UCLA coach Cori Close issued a challenge to her team before a showdown at Stanford and Michaela Onyenwere delivered.

Onyenwere had 29 points and 10 rebounds and the 10th-ranked Bruins pulled away from the No. 6 Cardinal late for a 79-69 victory Friday night that moved UCLA into a tie for second place in the Pac-12 with Stanford.

“Coach Cori came in with fire before the game,” Onyenwere said. “That really spoke to me and the team. She challenged our toughness and aggressiveness and we knew that in order to this game we had to be aggressive and we had to be tough.”

Onyenwere got a steal and a layup late in the third quarter to give UCLA (20-2 overall, 9-2 Pac-12) the lead for good and then added seven points early in the fourth to help the Bruins take control.

Chantel Horvat scored career-high 14 points off the bench for UCLA, Japreece Dean added 11 and the Bruins held Stanford to 36.6 percent shooting.

“We really wanted to take away their first and second option,” said Close, who earned her 100th Pac-12 victory. “We know where they want to enter the ball. We wanted them to think about our pressure the entire game so they didn’t get in a rhythm.”

Kiana Williams scored 25 points but it wasn’t enough to prevent the Cardinal (20-3, 9-2) from having its 16-game home winning streak snapped. Lacie Hull added 12 and Ashten Prechtel had 10 points and 12 rebounds.

“We weren’t able to hit shots,” Coach Tara VanDerveer said. “We weren’t moving the ball the way we needed to. It was disappointing.”

UCLA scored 10 straight points starting late in the first quarter and eventually built a nine-point lead as Stanford missed 15 of 17 shots. But Hull hit a 3-pointer just before the halftime buzzer to cut the Bruins led to 35-30.

Williams sparked the Cardinal in an impressive stretch in the third quarter with an outlet pass to Prechtel for a layup, a pull-up jumper and then a 3-pointer to put Stanford ahead 45-44.

But the Bruins then capitalized on five turnovers in the final four minutes of the quarter to take a 50-45 lead heading into the fourth when Horvat hit a layup just before the buzzer.

The big road win against a top-10 team keeps the Bruins within striking distance of No. 3 Oregon in the Pac-12 standings. UCLA hosts the Ducks next Friday night in what could be a showdown for first place in the conference.

With star freshman Haley Jones sidelined by a knee injury, Stanford didn’t have enough scoring options to hang with the Bruins. Williams did her best with three 3-pointers in the first quarter and that spurt in the third. But she went 1 for 10 with two turnovers down the stretch.

“She got really tired,” VanDerveer said. “We need some more help for her so I can rest her more so she can be fresher at the end of the game.”

UP NEXT

UCLA plays at Cal on Sunday at 2 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)

Bruins going back to Westwood with another W on the record. 👏@monyenwere_ and @ChantelHorvat were a power duo in No. 10 @UCLAWBB’s 79-69 win over No. 6 Stanford. pic.twitter.com/eBGlo6qYAM

— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) February 8, 2020

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Onyenwere scores 31 as UCLA women outlast Washington in OT

LOS ANGELES — For the second straight week, the UCLA women’s basketball team finished a game exhausted after playing more than a 40-minute regulation game.

But unlike last week, the Bruins walked away with the win.

Junior forward Michaela Onyenwere scored a career-high 31 points and helped the 10th-ranked Bruins erase a 15-point first-half deficit on their way to an 85-80 victory over Washington on Friday night at Pauley Pavilion.

Natalie Chou added 18 points, just one short of her career-high, off the bench for the Bruins (17-1 overall, 6-1 Pac-12), who used an 8-1 run to seize control in overtime and got back on track after losing their first game of the season to USC last week. UCLA was the only unbeaten team in the country before its double-OT loss to the Trojans.

Friday’s game was tied 70-all after regulation and the Bruins sprinted to a 78-71 lead in the extra period when Charisma Obsborne sandwiched a pair of baskets around one from Chantel Horvat and one from Onyenwere. Washington got within 78-75 on a Quay Miller layup with 57 seconds left, but the game became a free-throw shooting contest from there and UCLA was able to maintain a two-possession lead the rest of the way to close it out.

“I’m exhausted, I need a nap,” UCLA head coach Cori Close said following the game. “We needed every last person and every ounce of energy in that building today.”

Onyenwere, who missed the loss to USC because of a sprained ankle, shot 13 for 26 from the field and 5 for 7 from the free-throw line. Onyenwere and Chou were held to six points each in the first half before combining for 37 of the Bruins’ 60 points the rest of the night.

“It was pretty rough to see my team go down and knowing I couldn’t do anything about it. I knew we would bounce back because we’re a bunch of fighters,” Onyenwere said of watching the loss to USC from the bench with a boot on her ankle. “I knew we would respond regardless if I was in or not. I was really happy to be back on the court with my teammates.”

Chou came up big down the stretch. She made a 3-pointer with 44 seconds left from the baseline to give UCLA a 69-68 lead and added a steal with 11 seconds remaining. Onyenwere made one of two free-throw attempts for a 70-68 lead, but Melgoza, fouled with four seconds left, made both free throws, tying the score and forcing overtime.

“Natalie Chou is the player of the game,” Close said. “Of course, what gets a lot of the attention is the clutch (3-pointers). She was the only one would could hit a 3 today, but for me, I’m so proud of her talk and how she’s grown as a defender and how she’s been a selfless teammate this entire time, even when she wished she had a different role. That takes tremendous courage, selflessness and character.”

Chou was the only Bruin to make a 3-point shot, and UCLA had 28 attempts. Chou was 4 for 9 from behind the arc.

“My teammates have been so encouraging throughout the whole season throughout my (highs) and dips,” Chou said. “My teammates have given me so much confidence and it means the world to me. They always tell me to keep shooting.”

Amber Melgoza had 14 points and Missy Peterson added 13 for Washington (10-8, 2-5), which played well but squandered its 15-point, second-quarter lead.

To start the third quarter, Onyenwere made a point to be aggressive getting back in the lane and finding her shots there. She got UCLA off to a good start with a three-point play that seemed to energize the Bruins, pulling them within 37-30.

Onyenwere put UCLA ahead at 49-47 near the end of the third quarter. She scored off a nice bounce pass from Japreece Dean, who drove from the perimeter to the baseline then fed the trailing Onyenwere in the middle of the key. Onyenwere made it 51-47 with one second left in the third when she got a rebound off her own miss and scored on a putback to cap an 8-0 UCLA run.

The Bruins made 12 of 22 shots and were a much-improved 54.5 percent from the field in that span.

“Before Coach Cori and the staff came in (at halftime), we were just talking and nobody seemed frazzled or panicked,” Onyenewere said. “Everybody was poised and just saying, ‘It’s okay. Shots will fall. But defense has to be our anchor.’ … It was (more) like, we’re not doing anything we need to do on defense.”

UCLA missed 17 of 22 shots (22.7 percent) and trailed 22-11 after the first quarter, looking rusty after a week off. The Huskies went on an 8-0 run at the end of the first and built an 11-point lead.

Near the end of the first quarter, Close called a timeout and immediately afterward shrugged her shoulders.

“I think part of it is our refocusing when we don’t hit immediate shots,” Close said. “We missed a couple layups and then we let the air get taken out of us. … We always tell our team, ‘You’re never going to focus completely for 40 minutes.’ The key is to be aware when you’ve lost your focus and learn how to refocus the quickest.”

Dean (14 points) struggled from the field, shooting 1 for 8 in the first half, and missing all five of her 3-point attempts. UCLA was 2 for 17 from behind the arc in the first half.

Washington led 35-25 at halftime and often had UCLA frazzled with its zone and pressure, but it couldn’t do much about Onyenwere. No one knew if Onyenwere would play – though she said she figured she would be ready to go a couple of days ago – but Huskies coach Jody Wynn said they prepared all week as if she would play.

“We turned the ball over too much and allowed too many second-chance opportunities. To me, that’s the story of the game,” said Wynn, who saw her team commit 24 turnovers. “… At the end of the day, Onyenwere was just too much for us. She just jumped over us, got offensive rebounds or putbacks. I thought we did a great job on their guards. I thought we rattled them in the halfcourt and played well under pressure, all except the second half and third quarter, especially. We made some careless errors. Credit their defense.”

After winning their first 16 games and setting a program record for victories to start a season, the Bruins have shown there’s plenty of room for improvement.

UCLA concludes this week’s homestand against Washington State (9-10, 2-5) on Sunday at noon at Pauley Pavilion.

News services contributed to this story.

We went to overtime and came out on top! 85-80 victory over Washington to move to 17-1.

Check out the highlights from tonight’s win!#GoBruins | #Pac12WBB pic.twitter.com/Ap3XYYBZVo

— UCLA W. Basketball (@UCLAWBB) January 25, 2020

Here’s the long ball from @NatalieChou1!

💻https://t.co/YWqZMLz6zg
🔊https://t.co/FORzK0ZVaQ
🏀#GoBruins | #Pac12WBB pic.twitter.com/gwdSPnwpXC

— UCLA W. Basketball (@UCLAWBB) January 25, 2020

END 3Q – UCLA 51, WASH 7

Here’s the slick feed from @japreece24 to @monyenwere that gave the Bruins the lead. Michaela added another bucket before time expired and UCLA leads by four!

💻https://t.co/YWqZMLz6zg
🔊https://t.co/FORzK0ZVaQ
🏀#GoBruins | #Pac12WBB pic.twitter.com/hIGJSLvg9E

— UCLA W. Basketball (@UCLAWBB) January 25, 2020

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