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Johnson, Reese lead defending champion LSU past UCLA 78-69 to reach Elite Eight

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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) 鈥 Angel Reese says LSU鈥檚 players are embracing the role of 鈥済ood villains鈥 as they make a run toward repeating as national champions.

Flau鈥檍ae Johnson had 24 points and 12 rebounds and Reese put up her 26th double-double of the season Saturday as LSU (31-5) beat UCLA 78-69 in the Sweet 16.

Reese had 16 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out late in the game for the Tigers, who closed the game on a 14-2 run. Aneesah Morrow had 17 points and Mikaylah Williams added 12.

And all the while the Tigers did their usual trash-talking, screaming and waving goodbye to their opponent.

鈥淲e鈥檙e the good villains,鈥 Reese said. 鈥淲e鈥檙e impacting the game so much and all of us are super competitive and want to win and do whatever it takes to win. We鈥檙e just changing the game.鈥

LSU advanced to the Elite Eight, where it will face Caitlin Clark and Iowa on Monday night in a rematch of last year鈥檚 national championship game. The Hawkeyes beat Colorado 89-68 in Saturday鈥檚 second semifinal game in the Albany 2 Region.

Lauren Betts had 14 points and 17 rebounds for UCLA, which finished the season at 27-7. Londynn Jones and Gabriela Jaquez also put up 14 points each 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.

Jaquez hit a jumper that gave the Bruins a 67-64 lead with 2:46 left. But LSU responded with its run, sparked when Reese blocked a shot by Betts, leading to a drive by Johnson that fouled out Rice.

鈥淚 think that I wasn鈥檛 scared of the moment,鈥 Johnson said of her game. 鈥淚 really loved the delight. I love that underdog feeling. Coach Mulkey told me go do what you do, and I did.鈥

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 only one of 16 shots from behind the arc before Jones鈥 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.

鈥淐redit to LSU,鈥 Bruins coach Cori Close said. 鈥淭hey got the shots that they wanted down the stretch, and we didn鈥檛 get the shots that we wanted. We did not execute the way that we needed to, and that鈥檚 one that鈥檚 going to sting for a really long time for me.鈥

MULKEY AND THE MEDIA

The game was played hours after The Washington Post released a much-anticipated story about Mulkey, over which she had threatened legal action, warning it would be a 鈥渉it piece.鈥 Instead, it was a profile highlighting both positive and negative aspects of her career and describing her as a colorful personality who 鈥渨ears feathers almost as dramatically as she ruffles them.鈥

She wore a loud, multicolored sparkling pantsuit on Saturday. After the game, she said she likely would not read the article but questioned the timing of its release just before her team arrived at the arena.

鈥淚magine that. Must have thought y鈥檃ll would look at it, get some clicks or be a distraction,鈥 she said.

BIG PICTURE

LSU: The Tigers are looking to become the first repeat champion since UConn won its fourth straight in 2016.

UCLA: The Bruins have made 19 NCAA Tournament appearances and have been in the Sweet 16 nine times, including three in the last four years. But they have advanced to just two regional finals.

UP NEXT

LSU blew out Iowa 102-85 last year to give the Tigers their first national title. Reese had 15 points and 10 rebounds in that one, famously mocking Clark with a hand gesture Clark had given another opponent at the end of a game and Clark finished with 30 points in that loss.

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AP March Madness bracket: /hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: /hub/march-madness

Eaton-Robb has covered news and sports in Connecticut for 老澳门六合彩 since 1995. He has covered everything from 16 UConn men鈥檚 and women鈥檚 basketball championships to the tragedy at Sandy Hook. He has also served in roles including news supervisor, broadcast editor and acting news editor in the state.