The Elite Eight it is for the defending champions; LSU outlasts and runs past UCLA in Sweet 16

Flau'Jae Johnson scored 24 and pulled down a team-high 12 rebounds as the Lady Tigers advanced to the Elite Eight for the second straight year, a possible rematch against Iowa looming. Photo by LSU ATHLETICS

Flau’jae Johnson’s 24 points and 12 rebounds and Angel Reese’s 26th double-double of the season helped LSU beat UCLA 78-69 in the Sweet 16 in Albany, New York on Saturday as the Lady Tigers continued their quest for a second straight national title.

Reese, who fouled out with less than a minute to play in the game, had 16 points and 11 rebounds. LSU closed the game on a 14-2 run.

Aneesah Morrow had 17 points and Mikaylah Williams added 12.

LSU advanceed to its 10th Elite Eight in program history as it will face the winner of No. 1 Iowa and No. 5 Colorado on Monday at 6:15 p.m. CT inside MVP Arena. The winner will secure its spot at the Final Four in Cleveland next week. 

“I just thought a lot of individual players did a lot of little things to help us just keep playing the game,” Coach Kim Mulkey said. “One of the ways I’ve always thought that we can win a lot of games is we get to the foul line, and we did that again tonight.”

Lauren Betts had 14 points and 17 rebounds for UCLA, which finished the season at 27-7. Londynn Jones and Gabriela Jaquez also had 14 points apiece and Kiki Rice scored 13 for the Bruins.

LSU led by seven points at halftime, but after making just two of their first 20 shots from 3-point range, the Bruins hit four of their next five.

Consecutive 3-pointers from Jones keyed an 11-2 run that gave UCLA the lead at 45-44, and the teams were tied at 48 headed into the fourth quarter.

But the Tigers closed the game on a run of their own after trailing 67-64 with 2:46 left.

Johnson had two early 3-pointers in the first half. Her spinning baseline drive and layup highlighted an 8-0 LSU spurt that put the Tigers up 25-18.

The Bruins made just one of 16 shots from behind the arc before Jones’ 3-pointer from the left wing just before the halftime buzzer. That ended an 8-0 LSU run and cut what had been a 10-point lead to 34-27.

The Washington Post released a much-anticipated story about LSU coach Kim Mulkey hours before tip-off. Mulkey last week threatened legal action against the newspaper if the anything in the article was false and warning it would be a “hit piece.”

The article was a feature profile on Mulkey.

Reese was matched up with Betts for most of the night. For Reese it was her eighth straight double-double in the NCAA Tournament.

“We’ve gelled together all year,” Reese said. “Some nights it’s me, some nights it’s Neese, some nights it’s Flau’Jae. It’s so many different players on any given night, and people don’t realize that. Like we have a purpose, and our purpose is to get to the championship, and we don’t care who scores. I didn’t lose confidence in my team. I knew they were going to come out and continue to do what they do because we have great players on our team”

The double-double duo of Johnson and Reese combined for 40 of LSU’s 78 points and 23 of the Tigers’ 38 rebounds. 

Morrow and Mikaylah Williams broke double figures scoring 17 and 12, respectively. Both players came alive in the second quarter as LSU was behind and needed points to stop the UCLA comeback. 

Betts, Jones, and Jaquez each scored 14 for the Bruins to spread the offensive effort. Betts brought down 17 total rebounds to lead all players.

Johnson gave the Tigers their first lead of the day with back-to-back triples to put LSU up 8-7 before the first media timeout. Betts earned 5 of the Bruins points in the first 5 minutes as she battled with Reese down low. LSU found its early offense on the perimeter with Johnsosn’s pair of threes and a pull-up jumper from Williams. Johnson went on to score two more from the free throw line to earn her 8th straight points for the Tigers. LSU looked to hang on to its narrow lead, but the Bruins stringed together a 6-0 run to move back ahead by 1 with 1:30 to go in the quarter. Van Lith went 1-1 from the charity stripe to knot things up at 15 after the opening 10 minutes. 

Reese went coast-to-coast to open the quarter as her steal led to another layup that regained the LSU lead. Jaquez hit UCLA’s first three-pointer of the day to move the bruins back in front, 18-17. The Tigers forced a Bruin timeout with just under 7 minutes to play as they went on a 6-0 run that was capped off by a spin-move finish from Johnson to move her into double figures. After opening the second quarter 1-6 from the field, Rice went 2-2 from the field to put the Bruins within two. LSU moved its lead to by as many as 10 before the end of the quarter, but a Londynn Jones three-pointer to end the quarter made it 34-27 at the half. 

The Tigers went 57.1-percent from the field in the second quarter to outscore UCLA 19-12. The Bruins were just 4-14 in the second. LSU was outrebounded in the first half 23-20 and only brought down 2 offensive boards. The lead changed 5 times and the Tigers largest lead was 10 throughout the first half. 

At the media timeout, both squads had scored 10 points to start the third quarter as LSU held onto its 7 point lead. UCLA found its scoring down low and from beyond the arch, while the Tigers made its offensive effort in the mid-range. After the break, an 8-0 UCLA run regained the Bruin lead for the first time since the first minute of the second quarter. The Bruins hit three triples in just two minutes to spark its offense heading into the final minute of the quarter. A steal from Reese led to Betts’ third personal and sent Reese to the line to end the third. Reese went 2-2 to secure her double-double and tie things up at 48 heading into the final quarter.

The Bruins scored first to go up by 3 within the opening seconds of the fourth quarter. The Tigers traded buckets to stay within striking distance. A Williams steal led to a second chance finish that put LSU up by 1 with 7:48 remaining. Osborne connected on UCLA’s seventh three of the day to move them back up by 1. Williams responded again with a driving layup to make it 58-58 at the media timeout. LSU played from behind for the next three minutes staying close, but unable to regain the lead. The Tigers called for a 30-second timeout after Morrow scored to male it 67-66, UCLA. Reese went 2-2 from the foul line to gain LSU’s first lead of the quarter with just under two minutes to play. Johnson made the same a possession later to make it 70-67. LSU made its free throws down the stretch to improve its advantage and earn the win, 78-69.

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