‘Big stage’: Sac State’s dream season ends with loss to UCLA in women’s NCAA Tournament

They came, they saw — and they will learn from all of it.

Sacramento State’s greatest women’s basketball season ended in Los Angeles on Saturday night with a 67-45 loss to No. 4-seeded UCLA at famed Pauley Pavilion in an NCAA Tournament first-round game. There was no despair coming from Mark Campbell, the perpetually upbeat coach who reminded his players that they made history just getting here.

The story of this season was Campbell’s immediate rebuild results. The Hornets won three games two seasons ago, upped it to 14 in Campbell’s debut campaign, and then earned the No. 13 seed in their first NCAA Tournament appearance by winning a school-record 25 games and their first Big Sky Conference Tournament title.

Sacramento State came in with a nine-game winning streak but could not solve UCLA’s defense, which was active with defensive pressure and on rebounds. The Bruins outrebounded the Hornets 47-32 and held a team that was averaging 72.7 points to a season-low total.

“This is a new experience, a big-time stage, at Pauley Pavilion in March Madness,” Campbell said. “We wanted to compete. The first quarter got away from us and we couldn’t quite recover.”

Sacramento State junior post Isnelle Natabou had 16 points and 10 rebounds. Senior guard Kahlaijah Dean scored 11 points with six boards while senior guard Jordan Oliveras added 10 and five.

Senior guard Charisma Osborne led UCLA, scoring 11 points with 12 rebounds and five assists. Guard Kiki Rice had 15 points and forward Emily Bessoir had 14 as the Bruins moved to 8-0 all time against Sacramento State. UCLA led 16-2 during a 14-0 run and stretched it to 23-6. The Bruins led by as many as 24 late in the fourth quarter.

The Bruins will face No. 5 Oklahoma Monday in a second-round game in the Greenville Regional.

Dean said this team “set a standard” for Sacramento State.

Natbou added during a postgame news conference: “This was a great game and great experience for all of us. We fought a great fight. I wouldn’t change this team for anything.”

Campbell agreed.

“Super thankful for this group, that they got to experience this and to play in March Madness,” Campbell said. “Didn’t end the way we wanted, but UCLA is a really good team and has a great coaching staff. They did a heck of a job and earned it. I’m proud of this group. We accomplished a lot this season.”