After arriving at UCLA as the signature signing of a heralded freshman class, Kiki Rice has found another level to her game at the most important time of the year.
The point guard had 15 points as the fourth-seeded Bruins rolled to a 67-45 victory over No. 13 seed Sacramento State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night.
Rice had seven points in the first four minutes as UCLA jumped out to a 16-2 lead on the strength of a 14-0 run. She scored 10 in the first quarter, including a 3-pointer with 2:40 remaining that extended the Bruins’ advantage to 23-6.
“I definitely have a lot of confidence going into the tournament,” said Rice, who is averaging 12.2 points per game this season, but 14.7 in the past six games.
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“I think throughout the season my confidence has gone up. The more experience I got and in knowing what my team needs. I had some open lanes early and had some mismatches.”
Emily Bessoir added 14 points while Charisma Osborne had 11 points, 12 rebounds and five assists for the Bruins (26-9), who will face fifth-seeded Oklahoma on Monday with the winner advancing to the Greenville 1 Regional.
Isnelle Natabou had 16 points and eight rebounds for Sacramento State (25-8). Kahlaijah Dean scored 11, but was 3 of 19 from the field.
UCLA also had a 17-point lead at halftime and was up by as many as 24 late in the fourth quarter.
“The first quarter got away from us. We couldn’t quite recover,” Sacramento State coach Mark Campbell said. “UCLA did not surprise us. We were prepared — they didn’t do anything different.”
Neither team shot well: UCLA was 29 of 70 while Sacramento State went 17 for 50. The Bruins did outrebound the Hornets by 15 and had a 34-24 edge in points in the paint.
Sacramento State: The Hornets made their first tournament appearance just two years after going 3-22. They won the Big Sky Tournament after finishing in a three-way tie for the regular-season crown.
“It’s incredible. The development came faster than I would have guessed, but we’re not going backwards,” said Campbell, who has been the coach for two seasons. “It put us on the map and gave us validity to what we are doing.”
UCLA: The Bruins have won all seven first-round games in Close’s 12 seasons as coach. They are looking to get to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2019.
It will be the first meeting between UCLA and Oklahoma since November 2013. They faced each other in the second round of the tournament in 2013, with the Sooners winning 85-72.