Lying flat on her back, Kiki Rice covered her eyes. She rolled on to her side. She pounded the court with her fist.
Rice’s last-gasp three-point shot at the buzzer went off the glass and nearly bounced through the rim, but her career-best 25 points wasn’t enough to lead No. 2 UCLA to a comeback victory over Washington State at Pauley Pavilion on Sunday. The Bruins lost 85-82 after nearly erasing a 20-point, third-quarter deficit, suffering their third loss in the last two weeks.
“This one will be measured by everybody else on the outside by the end score, but it won’t be measured by that way for me,” UCLA coach Cori Close said as her voice shook and tears welled in her eyes. “What Kiki and the rest of her teammates, what they showed from the inside out, you have no idea.”
Less than a year ago, these teams met in the Pac-12 championship game. Washington State won its first conference title. UCLA (16-3, 6-3 Pac-12) could have claimed its first under Close, who held back tears after the loss in Las Vegas. After Sunday’s regular-season loss, the emotions appeared just as raw. Playing three games in seven days, including an overtime loss to Utah in Salt Lake City last Monday, seemed like the least of UCLA’s worries.
“It hasn’t been an easy week for a lot of different reasons for everyone in this program,” said Rice, who also had six rebounds and five assists. “Just knowing how hard we fought to go out there today and give it our all and have each other’s back, it meant a lot to everyone. And, obviously, didn’t come out the way we wanted it to, but just so proud of all my teammates, my coaches, everyone in this program for being willing to go out there and give it our all.”
The Bruins were without star center Lauren Betts, who sat out her second game because of a medical reason. UCLA didn’t elaborate on her status going forward as the Bruins prepare for road games against California and first-place Stanford this weekend.
The 6-foot-7 Betts’ absence was most felt on defense as Washington State center Bella Murekatete went off for 20 points and seven rebounds to lead the Cougars to their second consecutive win over UCLA at Pauley Pavilion after losing 34 straight in the arena. With UCLA unable to pressure the perimeter without Betts patrolling the paint, Washington State star Charlisse Leger-Walker had 17 points on seven-of-nine shooting before leaving the game with a right leg injury in the third quarter. The Cougars (15-6, 4-4 Pac-12) were leading by 16 points.
Washington State increased its lead to 20 points with four consecutive free throws. Then Charisma Osborne went to work.
She went on a personal 7-0 run in the third quarter. The tenacious guard led UCLA’s defensive pressure to open the fourth quarter that led to four Cougars turnovers in the first two minutes. Osborne shoveled an assist to Londynn Jones on a three-pointer that pulled the Bruins to within seven with 8:44 remaining, their first single-digit deficit since midway through the second quarter. Osborne hit her own three-pointer with 4:41 to go that cut the lead to four.
But miscommunication between the fifth-year guard and Jones led to two turnovers in the final three minutes, interrupting UCLA’s comeback attempt.
Osborne scored 16 of her 20 points in the second half, adding five assists and four rebounds. Jones had 19 points while playing all 40 minutes.