No. 2 UCLA loses at home to Washington State for the second straight year

Lying flat on her back, Kiki Rice covered her eyes. She rolled to her feet and 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 (16-3, 6-3 Pac-12) nearly erased a 20-point third-quarter deficit but lost 85-82 in a rematch of last year’s Pac-12 tournament championship game.

Charisma Osborne scored 16 of her 20 points in the second half, adding four rebounds and five assists while the Bruins tried to preserve their perfect home record this season. Londynn Jones had 19 points.

Despite the three double-figure scorers, the Bruins struggled on defense without sophomore center Lauren Betts, who sat out for the second consecutive game because of an undisclosed medical reason. The Stanford transfer is not only the team’s top scorer and the nation’s leader in field-goal percentage, but the 6-foot-7 center is UCLA’s defensive anchor.

While the Bruins tried to rotate forwards Lina Sontag, Christeen Iwuala and Angela Dugalić, Washington State center Bella Murekatete was undeterred. The 6-foot-3 Rwanda native was seven for 13 from the field with 20 points and seven rebounds. With UCLA unable to pressure on the perimeter without Betts patrolling the paint, Cougars star Charlisse Leger-Walker had 17 points before leaving the game because of a right leg injury in the third quarter.

Leger-Walker’s absence loomed large as the Cougars (14-6, 3-5 Pac-12) tried to fend off the Bruins comeback. Washington State mustered just three made field goals in the fourth quarter to four turnovers but survived with 14 free throws on 18 shots.

A three-pointer from Leger-Walker, who was selected Pac-12 tournament most outstanding player last year, put the Cougars up by 17 with 2:28 left in the second quarter. It capped a commanding 22-4 run by the defending conference tournament champions.

Osborne had taken just one shot to that point as the Cougars worked tenaciously to deny the All-Pac-12 guard the ball. But Osborne got on the board on UCLA’s first play out of a timeout, driving to the lane for a layup. It sparked a quick 6-1 surge for the Bruins, but they still limped into halftime with a 16-point deficit.

In a brief walk-off interview with the in-house emcee, UCLA coach Cori Close reassured the crowd, “We’re going to find a way to have a comeback story right now.”

Osborne looked to be the lead author.

She went on a personal 7-0 run in the third quarter to cut Washington State’s 20-point lead to 13 with 5:29 remaining. 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 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.

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