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Mar 31, 2024 12:15 am

Defending champ LSU rallies late, turns back UCLA

LSU Tigers

ALBANY, N.Y. — LSU kept its dream of back-to-back national championships alive, defeating UCLA 78-69 on Saturday to advance to the Elite Eight of the Women’s NCAA Tournament.

The Tigers survived a frantic final few minutes that saw UCLA take a 67-64 lead, only to be held to just two made free throws the rest of the way as LSU stars Angel Reese, playing with four fouls before fouling out with 31.5 seconds left, and Flau’Jae Johnson took control.

Johnson scored 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead the Tigers (31-5), the No. 3 seed in the Albany 2 Region. Reese added 16 points and 11 rebounds, while Aneesah Morrow scored 17.

Morrow’s jumper with 2:27 left launched a 6-0 run that put LSU up 70-67 — a lead the Tigers never relinquished. The score was tied eight times and featured 13 lead changes.

LSU coach Kim Mulkey credited a team effort — not just Reese, etc. — for the win and said the players listened to how each could contribute.

“You’re continually telling them the little things you have to do to win games,” she said. “A lot of individual players did a lot of things.”

The Bruins (27-7), the No. 2 seed, were attempting to reach their third-ever Elite Eight, having done so in 1999 and 2018.

“We gave up layups and free throws, and we missed layups and free throws. … That’s on me,” UCLA coach Cori Close said. “We did not execute the way we needed to. That’s one that’s going to sting for a long time.”

UCLA was led in scoring by 14 points each from Lauren Betts, who added 17 rebounds and four blocks, Londynn Jones and Gabriela Jaquez.

Kiki Rice had 13 for the Bruins.

“They’re a really talented team. All the best to them,” Jones said of LSU. “I think we’re the better team. I thought we just didn’t show up today.”

Mulkey will look for a better performance from her team in Monday’s region final against No. 1 seed Iowa, which dispatched No. 5 Colorado 89-68 later Saturday. Monday’s game against Iowa (32-4) will be a rematch of last year’s national championship game, won 102-85 by the Tigers.

LSU and UCLA were tied at 15 after the first period, and LSU outscored UCLA 19-12 in the second quarter to take a 34-27 lead at a half marred by off-the-mark shooting and sloppy play.

LSU had two 8-0 runs in the second period and held UCLA without a field goal for more than five minutes but couldn’t deliver a knockout blow.

“We extended the lead a couple of times,” Mulkey said. “We just couldn’t get over the hump.”

As a result, UCLA came out of halftime with hopes of getting back into the game, despite shooting just 30.6 percent in the first half and turning the ball over 10 times.

LSU shot 43.3 percent for the half, below its season average of 46.5 points, and had seven turnovers.

–Jami Farkas, Field Level Media

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