Kiki Rice and UCLA go into takeover mode and defeat Cal Baptist in NCAA tournament


The takeover started with a flurry of shotmaking.

Worried about California Baptist’s ability to make three-pointers in bunches Saturday at Pauley Pavilion, it was UCLA that opened the game with back-to-back shots from long range.

The takeover continued with a blur of highlights immediately after halftime.

A Gabriela Jaquez three-pointer was followed by a Charisma Osborne jumper and an Osborne steal leading to a Kiki Rice and-one layup that gave the Bruins a 20-point lead.

The takeover ended with the expected result.

In what UCLA coach Cori Close had described earlier this week as a women’s basketball takeover of Southern California, her second-seeded Bruins took a convincing first step with an 84-55 victory over the 15th-seeded Lancers in the opening round of the Albany 2 Region of the NCAA tournament.

The only real drama came before tipoff, when UCLA star center Lauren Betts watched warmups in street clothes. The Bruins’ leading scorer had “tweaked something” in practice this week, according to a team spokesman, and was considered day to day.

It was not immediately clear whether Betts would be available when UCLA (26-6) faces seventh-seeded Creighton (26-5) in the second round Monday.

The Bruins found a capable replacement in Jaquez, who displayed a larger dose of her usual toughness on the way to 19 points and seven rebounds in 32 minutes. Rice added 20 points and seven rebounds and Osborne just missed a triple-double with 15 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists and three steals. Osborne found Rice for a three-pointer on the wing in the final minute, but the shot went off the side of the rim.

Cal Baptist (28-4) had no counters, especially from long range. Close repeatedly reminded players in practice about the Lancers taking 32 three-pointers a game and what successfully defending that would entail.

Message received. Cal Baptist made only four of 21 threes (19%) in falling behind by as many as 29 points. The Lancers’ biggest highlight belonged to guard Nae Nae Calhoun, who unleashed a wicked crossover for a layup that left Rice sprawled on the court late in the third quarter.

Unfortunately for Cal Baptist and its large throng of fans who made the drive from Riverside, the Lancers still were down by 20.

There was little restlessness for a crowd that included two former Bruins in Russell Westbrook and his wife, Nina, who tugged at the sides of her UCLA sweatshirt to better display the four letters when shown on the video board.

Even though it had been 15 days since UCLA last played, the Bruins getting a little more than two weeks to shake off their crushing, double-overtime loss to USC in the Pac-12 tournament, they appeared immediately in sync in building a double-digit lead by early in the second quarter.

It was a successful opening act for Close in what is widely viewed as her best chance to reach a Final Four in her 13 seasons. The question is how deep her team can go in a bracket that includes defending national champion Louisiana State and Iowa and its scoring sorcerer, Caitlin Clark.

But those are worries for another day. On Saturday, the Bruins had commenced a takeover.



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