After falling short the last two times they played the Cardinal, the Bruins finally knocked off their conference rival in Las Vegas on Friday.
The Bruins have come a long way since the start of their week in Las Vegas.
No. 5 seed UCLA women’s basketball (25-8, 11-7 Pac-12) upset No. 1 seed Stanford (28-5, 15-3) in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals Friday night, emerging with a 69-65 victory to clinch a spot in the title game. It marked the Bruins’ first win over the Cardinal in over two years, and their 16-point comeback effort in the second half kept them in the race to win the conference tournament for the first time since 2006.
The Bruins trailed for virtually the entire first half, with guard Kiki Rice doing most of the damage to keep them in it. The freshman got the first bucket of the game, and accounted for seven of their first eight points in the second quarter.
Stanford led by 13 points at the half, though, even after forward Emily Bessoir got a 3-pointer to fall with 24 seconds left.
A short jumper by forward Lina Sontag and a pair of free throws from Bessoir cut the gap to nine early in the third, only for the Cardinal to storm back ahead by 16 a few minutes later.
Between the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth, UCLA finally staged a serious run.
When guard Gina Conti hit a 3-pointer with 7:16 left on the clock, the Bruins were suddenly only down by three. The Cardinal tried their best to cling onto their lead, but free throws by Rice and Conti – plus another triple from the latter – trimmed the gap down to one.
Rice’s jumper with 2:07 remaining finally put UCLA on top 60-59, and a jumper from guard Charisma Osborne gave the Bruins a much-needed cushion.
Stanford converted on both its field goal attempts and all its free throws in the final minute, but UCLA kept building its lead back out with free throws of its own.
Rice led all scorers with 22 points – a new career-high for the former McDonald’s All-American – while Bessoir dropped 14, Osborne put up 13 and Conti added 11. That quartet accounted for roughly 87% of the Bruins’ points, as the blue and gold’s bench got outscored 21-9.
UCLA only scored eight points in the paint all night, compared to Stanford’s 26. The Cardinal also won the rebounding battle and shot 9.1% better from the field, all while leading for 36:22.
The Bruins did score six more points off of turnovers, however, and Rice’s 12-for-13 performance at the charity stripe helped them score seven more points from the line. The 2:26 UCLA led for turned out to be all that mattered, and they will survive another day in the process.
About 48 hours earlier, it looked like the Bruins had blown a double-digit fourth quarter lead in the opening round. Instead, they’ve made it all the way to the end of the road in Sin City.
UCLA will appear in the Pac-12 tournament championship game for the seventh time in program history Saturday afternoon. Five of the Bruins’ six losses in that round came against Stanford, but they are set to face the winner of No. 3 seed Colorado and No. 7 seed Washington State this time around.
The finals will tip off from Michelob ULTRA Arena at 2 p.m., and they will be televised on ESPN2.