UCLA women fail late in NCAA tournament loss to LSU | Top Vip News

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Cities change, details vary.

The constant is disappointment this time of year for UCLA.

The latest bout of March gloom unfolded in a somber locker room inside MVP Arena, as the Bruins contemplated another missed opportunity.

One moment, they are leading the defending national champions by three points with less than three minutes left, everyone on the bench applauding, the possibilities endless.

The next moment, they falter amidst empty possessions compounded by the inability to make stops, with solemn faces, the season is over.

It’s already six trips to this weekend of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament under the direction of coach Cori Close. One ended up in the Elite Eight and five others in the Sweet 16, the latest stumble for the second-seeded Bruins, which came Saturday afternoon during a 78-69 defeat to third seed Louisiana State in an Albany 2 Regional semifinal.

UCLA guard Kiki Rice faces off against LSU guard Flau'jae Johnson during the third quarter of their Sweet 16 game on Saturday.

UCLA guard Kiki Rice faces off against LSU guard Flau’jae Johnson during the third quarter of their Sweet 16 game on Saturday.

(Mary Altaffer / Associated Press)

Close did not flinch from her latest inability to generate a breakthrough after her team held a 67-64 lead with 2½ minutes remaining after Gabriela Jaquez rebounded a floating jumper. The Bruins missed their last eight shots and two of four free throws and were outscored 14-2 the rest of the game.

“We gave up layups and free throws and missed layups and free throws down the stretch,” Close said, “and ultimately I’m responsible.”

There were no easy answers in the UCLA locker room, where guard Kiki Rice sat at a training table looking around blankly.

“It sucks,” Rice said moments earlier, “because I felt like we had a team this year that was surely capable of winning it all and that didn’t happen.”

Across the locker room, Jaquez reached out to hug teammate Izzy Anstey, who had retired from basketball earlier this season.

“Definitely difficult, very frustrating, I’m very angry right now,” Jaquez said after scoring 14 points, tying the tally of teammates Londynn Jones and Lauren Betts. “But I think the best thing I can do is use this as fuel for next year.”

Sloppy ballhandling and cold shooting were the biggest problems that led to another premature exit for UCLA (27-7) while helping LSU (31-5) advance to play top-seeded Iowa on Monday in a rematch of last season’s national championship game. The Bruins committed 19 turnovers and made 7 of 32 3-pointers (21.9%), including just 2 of 17 in the first half when they trailed by seven points.

That deficit grew to nine before the Bruins rallied, consecutive 3-pointers from Jones leading his team to a 45-44 lead. In his final college game, UCLA’s Charisma Osborne hit another 3-pointer to extend her team’s lead to two points.

The Bruins had a chance when LSU star Angel Reese picked up his fourth foul with 8:16 left in the game and headed to the bench with his team down three. However, the Bruins were unable to extend their lead over the next four minutes, leading by the same margin when Reese returned.

Reese appeared to have a verbal exchange with a Bruins assistant coach in the handshake line after the game, and later said that Close had called him a good game and that “it was another coach who was talking a little crazy.”

Close said no one on her staff had said anything inappropriate.

“We would never do that and it especially would never come from one of my coaches,” Close said. “Maybe he heard something by mistake, but I can tell you, and I’m not saying anything about Angel, I’m just saying what comes from my camp, absolutely not.”

Reese and Flau’jae Johnson recorded double-doubles for the Tigers: Johnson finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds, along with Reese’s 16 points and 11 rebounds.

Betts grabbed 17 rebounds and blocked four shots for the Bruins, but repeatedly struggled to get inbound passes that were often rejected for turnovers by a team that faltered on basketball’s big stage.

“I think we’re the better team,” Betts said, “and I thought we just didn’t show up today.”

Afterward, as she sat quietly in front of her locker, Osborne was comforted by teammate Lina Sontag and a team staff member.

After a few solemn minutes, Osborne stood up and left the room for medical treatment. Calming this latest disappointment could take much longer.

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