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No. 2 UCLA wins on toughness, but loses the war to WSU, 85-82

Kiki Rice shoots and scores. UCLA Athletics photo.
Kiki Rice shoots and scores. UCLA Athletics photo.

No. 2 UCLA had tried so hard to come back from a huge deficit and put Washington State away.

After falling behind by as much as 20 points in the third quarter, they rallied in the fourth to close the gap to 1, with 20 seconds to go. After two Cougar free throw shots, the Bruins still had chances.

Kiki Rice missed a three-point jumper, which Charisma Osborne rebounded, and then missed the same shot. Rice rebounded that ball, but there wasn’t time enough to launch another shot. Momentum from the scramble sent her to the floor as time expired, and Pauley Pavilion fell silent, as WSU’s 85-82 win sunk in.

Rice, who had scored a career-high 25 points in the effort, laid there for a moment, seemingly stunned, and finally Osborne reached out a hand to help her up.

The loss was UCLA’s second in 7 days, as they were upset in overtime the previous Monday by No. 16 Utah. It was also their second consecutive game without sophomore center Lauren Betts, who is out for undisclosed medical reasons, as per the team.

Coach Cori Close mentioned after Fridays win over Washington, which the Bruins began lethargically, that the team had been through “a tough week.” She reiterated that after Sunday’s loss, saying that athletes had been battling mentally, more so than physically.

It hasn’t been an easy week, for a lot of reasons, for everyone in this program,” Rice said.

Close teared up twice after the game, and instead of criticizing the Bruins, she praised their efforts.

This one will be measured…..by the end score, but it won’t be measured that way for me,” Close said. “What Kiki and her teammates showed from the inside out, you have no idea. I couldn’t be prouder of the fight, heart, enthusiasm, togetherness and belief that my team showed.”

Charisma Osborne defends Eleonora Villa. UCLA Athletics photo.

Rice said the team was on a mission after falling behind.

Throughout the entire game, we had a consistent belief that we could come out in the second half and find a way to win,” she said. “We started the second half believing that we could claw back, possession by possession, and we did that.”

WSU took down the highest-ranked opponent in program history, with Bella Murekatete leading four in double figures, with 20 points. But the win was tainted by the loss of top scorer Charlisse Leger-Walker, who went down early in the third quarter with a non-contact knee injury.

Coach Kamie Ethridge said the prognosis “didn’t look good.”

We’ll wait and see what the picture looks like, but you know, it generally doesn’t ever end up well,” she said. “You’ve just got to be patient and figure out the next plans for her.”

Leger-Walker had 17 points before exiting the game. Eleonora Villa stepped up for 18 points to help seal the win.