UCLA women’s basketball heads to the Bahamas for the first tournament of the season

The Bruins will face their first road test in the uncharted waters of the Bahamas, but a familiar opponent awaits them in the first round.

UCLA women’s basketball (3-0) meets South Dakota State (2-1) in the first game of the year.

The first round of the tournament could trigger déjà vu for UCLA when it meets the state of South Dakota. Last season, the Bruins were defeated by the Jackrabbits in the semifinals of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament to end the 2021-2022 season. That loss came after the blue and gold fell to the Jackrabbits early in their final season in the Gulf Coast Showcase.

However, the Bruin squad that joined the Gulf Coast Showcase last season was one struggling with injuries that left them with seven active players. After a foot injury, then junior guard Charisma Osborne returned to the pitch in the first round last year and led the team into the tournament with an average of 18.3 points.

Osborne has continued to lead the Bruins this year.

After her 29-point dominance on the court in the Blue-Golds’ final game against Troy on Sunday, Osborne beat her team with 10 rebounds and a season-best 11 of 17 from the field.

Coach Cori Close said offense isn’t Osborne’s only strength.

“If you talk to your competition, they will talk about their defence. I don’t think there is a more versatile elite defender in the country than Charisma Osborne,” Close said. “Obviously going into this tournament she’s an incredible goalscorer but her ability to be a lock-up defender in multiple positions will be something that we really lean on.”

Osborne said despite their individual efforts on the ground, it takes a whole village.

“Honestly I just think by doing what I do with my teammates and obviously I didn’t do it alone. My teammates help me a lot,” said Osborne. “We have a lot of great coaches who have very competent scouting reports for us, so I think just follow that and do whatever it takes.”

Coupled with Osborne’s leadership, the five top-recruiting rookies in the country, including guard Kiki Rice and forward Gabriela Jaquez, continued to use their strengths on the pitch and led the Bruins to an unbeaten start to the season at home.

In just the first three games of her career, Rice averaged 28.3 minutes per game and recently amassed a career-high 16 points in the fight against Troy.

“It was all about making the reads and making the right plays. I felt like I did in the last game, maybe I could have been more aggressive, but I had open teammates,” Rice said. “When I saw lanes and opportunities this time, I took them… I wasn’t trying to force it.”

This will be the first career freshman talent tournament. Close said they need to learn how to mentally prepare themselves to play multiple games in a row.

“The only other time we have games like this is the Pac-12 tournament, which we’ll be a lot more familiar with as the year progresses,” Close said. “I think that you can quickly learn to concentrate mentally. What are the most important things? You won’t have a lot of physical replay from one game to the next. You’re going to have to do it with mental repetition, learning and preparation.”

If Blue and Gold defeat the Jackrabbits in the first round, they will face either Rutgers or Tennessee in the second round.

UCLA will go to court against the state of South Dakota at 11:30 p.m. Saturday