Charisma Osborne helps UCLA weather upset bid in comeback win over Princeton

UCLA guard Charisma Osborne (20), reacts with forward Angela Dugalic (32).
UCLA guard Charisma Osborne (20) reacts toward Angela Dugalic after drawing a foul call in UCLA's 77-74 comeback win over Princeton at Pauley Pavilion on Friday. (Ryan Sun / Associated Press)

Charisma Osborne doesn’t have to be UCLA’s leading scorer anymore, but the fifth-year guard proved Friday she was still the Bruins’ go-to star.

Osborne scored 13 of her 21 points in the fourth quarter Friday as the No. 3 Bruins won 77-74 to survive Princeton's upset bid at Pauley Pavilion. Center Lauren Betts, who was tied for the team lead with 18.7 points per game, had a 22-point, 10-rebound double-double with perfect shooting: nine for nine from the field and four for four from the free- throw line.

“Lauren deservedly has gotten a lot of credit and she's been a big story and a big addition, but Ris just keeps making winning plays,” UCLA coach Cori Close said, emphasizing Osborne’s history as the team’s top defender and rebounder last year. “I just think that shows so much maturity on her part and it’s what's going to make her a great pro and it's what's going to lead us to a lot of wins.”

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With the program’s highest ranking since the 1978-79 season, UCLA (4-0) will face No. 8 Connecticut next Friday in the Cayman Islands. The matchup between teams ranked in the top four during the preseason was expected to be UCLA’s first major test of the nonconference season.

That is, before Friday’s scare.

A pair of Southern California natives starred in their homecomings for the Tigers (2-1) as guard Kaitlyn Chen, a Flintridge Prep alumna and the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year, scored 24 points and Los Angeles Windward’s Skye Belker had 20.

Chen missed the last-gasp potential tying three-pointer after a late missed free throw by Kiki Rice left the door open for the Tigers. With UCLA clinging to a three-point lead with five seconds left, forward Lina Sontag forced a deflection on the inbounds pass that caused a wild scramble.

The Bruins exhaled, but with tougher challenges ahead, Close didn't relax.

“The ball is on the ground, we need to be diving on that ball,” Close said. “There's no way they should have gotten the shot off after that deflection. If you want to be competing for championships and at a Final Four level against a team like UConn, you better win those and we've got to be a grittier, tougher, passion play kind of team. If we can be more like Princeton was against UConn, we’ll give ourselves a good chance.”

Princeton, a five-time defending Ivy League regular-season champion, surged ahead with an emphatic 27-point second quarter to take a three-point halftime lead. Belker led the Tigers in the first half with 11 points on four-for-four shooting as Princeton made 10 of 11 shots in the second quarter.

Betts scored 20 points in the first three quarters, helping the Bruins pull into a tie heading into the fourth. She didn’t attempt a shot in the last quarter as Osborne took over.

The Windward School alumna sparked UCLA’s fourth quarter by scoring the team’s first four points and forcing a steal that Rice converted into a breakaway layup. Rice’s basket gave the Bruins their first four-point lead since the middle of the second quarter.

“Sometimes it might not be me,” said Osborne, who led the Bruins in scoring for the last two seasons, “and today it just happened to be me.”

Osborne moved into a tie for sixth place on UCLA's all-time scoring record, matching Nirra Fields' 1,867 career points. Betts was the first UCLA player to finish with more than 20 points on perfect shooting from the field since Michelle Greco in 2000.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.