Despite loss, UCLA encouraged in their mission to find cohesion

Charisma Osborne defends Christyn Williams. Ian Bethune photo.

Despite falling short in an epic comeback attempt to take down No. 3 UConn Saturday, UCLA is encouraged by signs of progress in an injury-riddled season.

The Bruins lead the entire first half, by as much as 11 at one point. But the Huskies came to life in the third quarter, getting their first lead at the 3:41 mark. They were ahead by 13 late in the fourth when UCLA rallied back to cut the deficit to four with 37 seconds remaining. Despite missing several free throws down the stretch, UConn made enough of them to hang on for the 71-41 win.

Charisma Osborne led the Bruins with 26 points, and Natalie Chou and Iimar’i Thomas each had 10. Evina Westbrook led five Husky starters in double figures with 17 points.

Both teams have been hammered by injuries this year, with UCLA missing several players before the season tip and UConn seeing a few go down last week, including top scorer Paige Bueckers. With transfers, the Bruins had eight new players coming into the year, which has proved challenging in formulating team chemistry. During Thanksgiving weekend they had back-to-back losses, which dropped them out of the rankings for the first time since 2015.

Osborne said the loss hurt, but pointed to the Bruins’ rebound win last week and said they’d do it again.

“I think this team will come back, and we’ll watch film and have practice and we’ll respond, and try to find new ways to give to each other and grow,” she said.

Guard Jaelynn Penn said the loss was another opportunity to improve.

“I think it’s easier because it hits harder on losses, (and we will have) willingness to grow and to come together as a team, and develop chemistry,” Penn said. “We’re upset and frustrated, but we realized that we need to get together, and the willingness to grow is really up there.”

Coach Cori Close said UCLA is a team with great pieces, which need to be brought together into a unit.

“Just our need to become a better unit, to develop our chemistry, to understand each other’s game….to be honest with you, that’s been a long process than I thought it would be,” Close said. “And then obviously the injuries maybe exacerbated that challenge.”

Close said the work will continue.

“We’re committed to the championship process, we’re committed to championship-level habits, we’re committed to giving and growing every day, and we’re just going to let how we feel right now give us not only great motivation, but great hope of what we can grow into and what we’re willing to fight for.”

The Bruins return to Los Angeles for a three-game homestand to close out nonconference play, beginning with Texas Southern on Thursday.