LOS ANGELES (AP)Three weeks ago, Charisma Osbourne thought she played her final game at Pauley Pavilion. UCLA’s run to the Pac-12 tournament championship game though has given Osbourne at least one more chance to play at home.
Osborne and the fourth-seeded Bruins open NCAA Tournament play on Saturday against No. 13 seed Sacramento State.
“I’m super excited to be back here. Just to be able to have our fans and my family come out and see me play here again is going to be really fun,” Osborne said.
The UCLA (25-9)-Sacramento State (25-7) winner will face either fifth-seeded Oklahoma (25-6) or No. 12 Portland (23-8) on Monday. The winner of Monday’s game will advance in the Greenville 1 region.
The 5-foot-9 guard was the Bruins leading scorer for the second straight season, averaging 15.5 points per game. With UCLA bringing in the nation’s top-ranked signing class, including heralded point guard Kiki Rice, Osborne saw her role change from running the point to moving back to shooting guard, which she did her freshman season.
The other big change is that Osborne evolved into a leader on what was mostly a young squad.
“I think it’s been so fun to have them because they have challenged me as a leader to just be a better teammate, just be more helpful to them because this is all just so new to them,” said Osborne, who was seventh in the Pac-12 in scoring.
Coach Cori Close said the biggest improvement she has seen in Osborne’s game is that she has become an efficient scorer. Osborne had a stretch during the middle of the season where she was relying too much on outside shooting before she started driving more to the paint and drawing fouls.
“What I seen her evolve through this year is get back to being an efficient player that knows how to read defenses and take the shots she is given by the defense,” Close said.
Sacramento State is making its first trip just two years after going 3-22. The Hornets won the Big Sky Tournament after finishing in a three-way tie for the regular season crown.
“This is what we came here for. We thought Sac State had an opportunity to be something special,” said coach Mark Campbell, who is in his second season. “It’s a beautiful campus. 30,000 students; football had been winning; baseball had been winning, and it was a program that it needed to be fixed. We thought there was a lot of potential and it’s happened quickly. Probably quicker than we all thought.”
The Hornets were buoyed by five transfers this season, including Kahlaijah Dean, who was named the Big Sky’s MVP. Dean, who transferred from Oakland University in Michigan, averaged 21.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists.
Oklahoma coach Jennie Baranczyk isn’t frustrated that the Sooners had to go on the road for the first two rounds, but she was disappointed only one Big 12 team was selected to host.
“I think that’s unfortunate because I think we do have a lot of parity and we have some great teams in our conference,” she said. “If you spend your energy on the wrong things, you’re not spending your energy on the right things. So for us, we weren’t in any of the reveals. It wasn’t something that it was like, okay, this is what’s motivating us. We need to be better.”
The Sooners, who were the Big 12’s regular season co-champion, come in with the nation’s second-ranked offense, averaging 84.5 points per game. They are 21-0 when scoring at least 80 points per game.
Oklahoma is one of two schools in the country to have two active 2,000-point career scorers in Madi Williams and Taylor Robertson. Williams leads the team in scoring at 15.5 points per game.
Portland is playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1997. The Pilots qualified three years ago but the tournament was not played due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our five seniors won the West Coast Conference in 2020 but didn’t have a chance to play in the tournament. I’m so excited and happy for them,” coach Michael Meek said. “I know that it was really important for them to have this opportunity. I think it’s really a relief for our staff just to allow them to have this experience.”
Portland’s roster features eight players from Australia and two from New Zealand.
Alex Fowler, who leads the Pilots in scoring at 17.8 points per game, said the key against Oklahoma will be trying to take away their perimeter shooting.
“We’re a team that likes to get other teams out of their style of play and pressure and get all over them,” she said. “So hopefully, if we’re able to do that and stop those transition buckets and their three-point game.”
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