Hornets bounced in first round of NCAA tournament by UCLA

Sac State swarmed by Bruins in March Madness 67-45 loss


Dylan McNeill

Freshman forward Solape Amusan sets a screen for senior guard Kahlaijah Dean on Saturday March 18, 2023 at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles, CA. The pair combined for 16 points in the Hornets season-ending loss.

Dylan McNeill

Sacramento State women’s basketball was on a dream run, with the most wins in program history, a nine-game win streak and a Big Sky championship.

Despite a historic season, they played a nightmarish first quarter in the NCAA March Madness first round against the No. 4-seeded UCLA Bruins.

The Hornets at the start of the game immediately fell behind, and stayed behind.  Just over four minutes into the game, Sac State found themselves down 16-2; the Bruins could work their way into any shot they wanted.

The dream season for the Hornets ended with a convincing 67-45 loss.

UCLA with the home court behind them wasted no time showing their strength and athleticism against the Hornets, starting the game bringing a full-court press. The aggressive defense stifled any half-court offense for the Hornets.

Two missed free throws by senior guard Kaylin Randhawa jumpstarted UCLA to a 6-0 run which felt like a microcosm of the whole game.

“The first quarter got away from us,” Sac State coach Mark Campbell. “They [UCLA] got the game going at a tempo that favored them and we couldn’t quite recover.”

Sac State did a good job limiting turnovers, one of their few weaknesses this season. That wasn’t enough, as it seemed as if the Bruins made the most of every Hornet miscue.

The Hornets had a lot of supporters at Pauley Pavilion despite being over 350 miles south of The Nest. The always rowdy Sac State band, Sac State dance team and a large group of Sac State fans and family that made the trip south. 

Once the opening whistle blew, it didn’t matter. UCLA was determined to show who was a No. 4 seed and who wasn’t.

The Bruins dominated on the offensive glass. UCLA led with 16 offensive rebounds to Sac State’s six.

The Hornets were unsuccessful in getting stops, battling with aggressive rebounding Bruins who capitalized on 13 second-chance points.

With 6:37 to play in the first quarter, the Hornet deficit grew to 11 and the Bruins maintained a double-digit lead which they held the rest of the game.

Freshman guard Kiki Rice led the way early on for UCLA, adding 10 of her 15 points in the opening quarter. Rice and her Bruin team prepared to storm out of this game’s gates.

“Every team in March Madness is a great team,” Rice said “We can’t take anyone lightly, we had to come out strong.”

Junior center Isnelle Natabou was the only consistent source of Hornet offense, finishing with 16 points and 10 rebounds on 67% shooting. 

“I’m so grateful we had the chance to experience [facing a] high-level team,” Natabou said, “I think we fought a great fight, I’m so proud.”

Fellow Hornet star, senior guard Kahlaijah Dean suffered a dreadful shooting performance on the night, going 3-19 from the field.

“I wouldn’t change this for the world,” Dean said, reflecting on her one and only season at Sac State.

The Big Sky Conference  and tournament MVP didn’t play her finest game Saturday, but her fellow Hornets stayed ten toes down, showing empathy to their teammate

“I love her. I’m not saying because it’s cool to say or because it’s casual to say,” Natabou said. “Wherever she would go, I would follow like a tail because she’s awesome.”

Despite the cold shooting, Dean finished with 11 points and a team-high five assists while consistently hounded by UCLA’s senior guard Charisma Osborne.

“We talked about pressure a lot this week,  how we’re going to attack and apply it, ” Osborne said.

While Sac State shot just 7% worse from the field,  the Bruins totaled 20 more shots than the Hornets. The Hornets could not score in the fast break the entire game, being outscored in that department 11-0. 

“They’re very methodical,” UCLA coach Cori Close said of the Hornets. “We were trying to speed them up in everything that we did.” 

The fourth quarter felt more like a formality than anything else, with the Hornets down 20 heading into the final quarter.

The Hornets never held the lead in their season finale. The loss brings Sac State’s record to a close at 25-8, the most wins in a single season in school history. 

“We can build an elite mid-major program. And we did that,” Campbell said. “We’re not going backward.”