If this was Charisma Osborne’s last game at Pauley Pavilion, it ended with an emphatic mic drop.
The senior who could be a top WNBA draft pick this year led fourth-seeded UCLA to its first Sweet 16 berth since 2019 by scoring a career-high 36 points and adding eight rebounds and four assists in an 82-73 win over the fifth seed. Oklahoma.
In the Sweet 16 for the fifth time under coach Cori Close, the Bruins (27-9) will play No. 1 seed South Carolina on Saturday in Greenville, SC, in a rematch of a non-conference game. On November 29 the defending national champion Gamecocks won 73-64 on their home court.
In the handshake line after that game, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley left Close with a message.
“We will meet again,” Close said Staley told him.
UCLA blew an 18-point first-half lead Monday with a slow third quarter and trailed by one entering the fourth. The game nearly came to a halt as the teams seemed to alternate free throws on every possession, but Osborne punched the dagger on a midrange jumper with 1:50 remaining to put the Bruins within 10 points.
The former Windward School star tied his previous career high for scoring with three free throws earning him 32 points with 24 seconds remaining. She drilled two final free throws with six seconds remaining before Close substituted her for a curtain call. They shared a long hug.
“This is very meaningful to me because we have fought through the fight,” Close said. “I love her deeply and I believe in her a lot. I think it actually goes even deeper because it hasn’t always been easy. I think you build real trust when you’re willing to go into the tunnel of chaos and work through it until you come out on the other side.”
Osborne was playing in his first NCAA tournament that was not held inside a bubble. With an additional year of eligibility remaining due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Osborne could return to the Bruins, but from the way he raised his arms to the crowd as fans rose to their feet, it seemed like a fitting end. Fans sitting near the floor chanted: “Thirty-six! Thirty-six!”
Her 36 points are the most by a player in the NCAA Women’s Tournament this year.
“I just went into the game thinking about playing your game, playing for free,” Osborne said. “And I think I play better when I have that mentality.”
Led by Osborne’s 12-of-12 free throw performance, UCLA made 25-of-28 for the game and 21-of-23 in the fourth quarter. The Bruins entered the game on pace to set the school record for single-season free throws at 77.4%.
Osborne and freshman Kiki Rice (14 points) were UCLA’s only double-digit scorers, but the Bruins were still able to get past the explosive Sooners by holding star senior Taylor Robertson to two points. The NCAA career leader in three-point field goals with 537 missed all three of her attempts from long range.
Senior Madi Williams led the Sooners (26-7) with 24 points and six assists.
Like the Bruins in their first round game against Sacramento State, they jumped out early on Oklahoma. Challenging 14 unanswered points that were handed to Sacramento State, the Bruins snapped a 13-0 run between the first and second quarters, led by seven points from Osborne.
The Bruins led by 13 points at halftime and forced 13 turnovers, leading to 12 points for UCLA.
But the Bruins couldn’t contain the second-highest scoring team in the nation all night. Ana Llanusa’s midrange jumper at 1:30 of the third quarter gave the Sooners a one-point lead, part of an 18-2 run.
The Sooners shot 76.9% from the field in the third quarter, but entered the fourth leading just a point after Osborne scored on a three-point play with four seconds remaining in the third. When he saw the contested layup fall through the net, he raised his fist and yelled.
“I felt the light come back to her eyes with that play,” Close said of the impact on her players.
Later, running off the court after a television interview, Osborne raised his fist again at the crowd. He disappeared into the tunnel as the fans continued to cheer.