UCLA head coach Cori Close speaks with her team during a timeout in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Washington State in the finals of the Pac-12 women’s tournament Sunday, March 5, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
UCLA women’s basketball is back in the NCAA Tournament after ending last year’s postseason in the WNIT. The Bruins were announced as the No. 4 seed in the Greenville 1 region during this weekend’s Selection Sunday show.
“I was pretty confident with how things shook out that we were going to be a four-seed,” coach Cori Close said. “I didn’t want to say it out loud because you never know how things are going to happen, but I’m just really proud.”
UCLA (25-9) is making its 18th tournament appearance and is searching for its first national title. The Bruins will host No. 13 seed Sacramento State (25-7) on Saturday, March 18.
The Hornets are making their first tournament appearance in program history after winning the Big Sky Conference earlier this season. Close said she didn’t have much knowledge prior to scouting about the Hornets, but is friends with their coach, Mark Campbell.
“We’ve actually been their hype squad down here,” Close said. “We’ve just been really rooting for them and enjoying the amazing accomplishment that they have had.”
UCLA, which was predicted to be a No. 4 seed by ESPN, earned an automatic qualifying bid to the WNIT last season and won four games before losing in the semifinals to South Dakota State, the eventual tournament champion.
UCLA reached the Pac-12 championship game on March 5 but lost to Washington State, 65-61. Charisma Osborne, Emily Bessoir and Kiki Rice were named to the All-Tournament team.
It’ll be Osborne’s last run in the NCAA Tournament, and the true senior is pacing the team in scoring with 15.5 points per game in addition to 5.6 rebounds per game. Osborne scored 19 points in the Pac-12 championship game, and it’ll be her second appearance in an NCAA Tournament.
“I want her to play her best basketball,” Close said. “I want her to enjoy her time with her teammates. I want her to play with reckless abandon and focused energy and enjoy every minute.”
Rice, a freshman, and Bessoir rank second and third on the team, respectively in terms of scoring. Bessoir, a redshirt-sophomore, missed all of last season due to a torn ACL but was valuable off the bench as a freshman. She was a Pac-12 All-Freshman player that season.
Rice will make her tournament debut as a valuable piece in her first year with the Bruins. She played 33 minutes in the Pac-12 championship game, which included almost all of the third quarter. The guard is making her presence known, shooting .406 with an average of 11.7 ppg.
A home venue could give UCLA momentum in the first few games of the NCAA Tournament. Close said playing at home provides an extra advantage because finals week is coming up for UCLA, which is a trimester school, but environment is a big factor, too.
“You still have to take care of your business, you still have to execute your game plan,” Close said, “but if you look throughout the history, being able to play at home has proven to be a pretty big advantage.”
UCLA (25-9) vs. Sacramento State (25-7)
When: Saturday, March 18; time TBD
Where: Pauley Pavilion