UCLA women falter at the finish in NCAA tournament loss to LSU

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The stage was set for UCLA’s big March breakthrough.

There was a late lead against the defending national champions. Shots were finally falling for the Bruins.

Then came a familiar feeling this time of year — crushing disappointment.

In their latest setback at this stage of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, the second-seeded Bruins faltered in the final minutes of a 78-69 loss to third-seeded Louisiana State on Saturday in a semifinal of the Albany 2 Regional at MVP Arena.

After holding a three-point lead when Gabriela Jaquez got the bounce on a floating jumper with 2:46 left, the Bruins were outscored, outfought and outclassed the rest of the way.

UCLA (27-7) missed too many shots in the final minutes and LSU (31-5) made enough free throws to advance to play the winner of the other regional semifinal between top-seeded Iowa and fifth-seeded Colorado on Monday. If the Hawkeyes get past the Buffaloes, it will be a rematch of last season’s national championship game.

UCLA guard Kiki Rice drives against LSU guard Flau'jae Johnson during the third quarter of their Sweet 16 game Satuday.

UCLA guard Kiki Rice drives against LSU guard Flau’jae Johnson during the third quarter of their Sweet 16 game Satuday.

(Mary Altaffer / Associated Press)

Sloppy ballhandling and cold shooting were the biggest issues that ended the Bruins’ season. UCLA committed 19 turnovers and made only seven of 32 three-pointers (21.9%). Jaquez, Londynn Jones and Lauren Betts each scored 14 points for the Bruins, who shot just 35.7%.

Flau’Jae Johnson and Angel Reese both logged double-doubles for the Tigers, with Johnson logging 24 points and 12 rebounds to go with Reese’s 16 points and 11 rebounds.

The Bruins had an opening when Reese picked up her fourth foul with 8:16 left in the game and headed to the bench. UCLA’s Kiki Rice made both free throws she was awarded to give her team a 55-52 lead.

But the Bruins could not extend their advantage over the next four minutes, leading by the same margin when Reese returned.

After starting the game three-of-22 shooting from three-point range, UCLA finally found its stroke in wiping out a nine-point deficit in the third quarter.

Back-to-back three-pointers from Jones pushed the Bruins into a 45-44 lead before Charisma Osborne made one to extend her team’s advantage to two points.

For a second consecutive game, UCLA found itself facing a considerable halftime deficit after getting little from its guards in falling behind 34-27. Rice, Osborne and Jones combined for 11 points and six turnovers while making only five of 18 shots.

Collectively, the Bruins made one of 16 three-pointers before Jones buried one with five seconds left in the first half to prevent her team from going into halftime facing a double-digit deficit.

There was a lengthy list of problems for UCLA. In addition to committing 10 turnovers, the Bruins didn’t run their offense enough through Betts, who had just six points at the game’s midpoint after scoring two of her team’s first three baskets.

This came just one day after UCLA coach Cori Close had talked about the importance of getting Betts the ball, noting that her team shot 13% better on possessions in which Betts had a touch.

About the only thing going the Bruins’ way in the early going was the grit of Jaquez, who fought for offensive rebounds and drove through defenders for baskets.

In the end, the Bruins weren’t tough enough.

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