Cal storms past Georgia, advances to first Final Four
Down 49-39 late in the second half, things appeared bleak for the Cal women's basketball team. It also wasn't looking so hot early in the extra frame when Khaalidah Miller's three-pointer gave Georgia the first edge in overtime—this after Cal had stormed back to take the lead late in regulation but missed free throws down the stretch that allowed an Anne Marie Armstrong putback to make it a 45-minute affair.
[Related Cal-Georgia highlights via NCAA.com]
But time after time, Cal had an answer, be it a Layshia Clarendon pull-up jumper or a Talia Caldwell offensive rebound. In the end, the Golden Bears pulled out a 65-62 victory over the Georgia Lady Bulldogs in Spokane, earning the program its first trip to the Final Four in the process.
"It's incredible," coach Lindsay Gottlieb told ESPN's LaChina Robinson after the game. "These kids persevere and they thrive."
At many points in the game, however, a Cal victory seemed improbable. The Golden Bears struggled against Georgia's tough-as-nails 2-3 zone, hitting just one of their first 18 shots from the floor as they fell behind 9-2 just a little more than eight minutes into the ballgame.
Cal got back into the swing of things thanks to its bread and butter—rebounding. The No. 5 team in the country in rebounding margin entered the night crashing the offensive glass all game long, finishing with 22 offensive rebounds for the game in order to help offset the 34 percent shooting as a team. The major culprits were Reshanda Gray and Talia Caldwell, as the two combined for 13 of those pull-downs off of Cal misses. Caldwell's hustle in the paint was especially key down the stretch, willing her way to multiple caroms in the final minutes of regulation and overtime. On this night, Caldwell would not let her team be denied of a trip to New Orleans.
Neither would Layshia Clarendon, who finished with a game-high 25 points on 9-18 shooting from the field. The silent assassin got it done with her traditional array of mid-range jumpers while also taking it to the rack on occasion and nailing three shots from beyond the arc. No jumper was more clutch than her spin move into a pull-up from the left elbow that gave Cal a 63-57 lead with less than a minute remaining in overtime.
While many of Cal's headliners made big contributions (Gray finished with eight points and 11 rebounds, Caldwell finished with 10 and eight and Brittany Boyd chipped in eight boards, five assists and a couple of steals to go along with her eight points), Afure Jemerigbe gave the Cal offense a much-needed spark when it was sputtering mightily in the early going. The junior guard was responsible for connecting on three of Cal's first five made field goals in the first 13 minutes of the game. All told, Jemerigbe scored 14 points, six of which came on a couple of threes; both of them huge. Her first was an immediate response to Cal falling behind by ten, and the other gave the Golden Bears a four-point edge in overtime.
As much as it was a consummate Cal victory in the positive ways, the Golden Bears also had their trademark free-throw troubles. Hindering the comeback and allowing Georgia to stay alive at different points in the game, Cal made just half of its 24 attempts from the charity stripe on the night.
While the Lady Bulldogs were denied their sixth Final Four appearance since 1999, it was still a season of great success for Andy Landers' team. The veteran head coach led Georgia to a 28-win season that included victories over top-seeded Stanford in the Sweet 16 and fellow Elite Eight partner and SEC foe, Kentucky. The Lady Bulldogs were led by SEC All-Freshman honoree Shacobia Barbee, who averaged 14 points per game for the NCAA tournament and had a double-double tonight with 14 points and 10 boards. Landers will say goodbye to seniors Jasmine Hassell, Jasmine James and Anne Marie Armstrong, each of whom amassed more than 1,000 points in their Georgia careers.
The record-breaking season continues for the Golden Bears, who will play the winner of tomorrow's Louisville-Tennessee contest in the Final Four in New Orleans on Sunday. The win also made Cal the first team from the Pac-12 outside of Stanford to reach the Final Four since USC appeared in 1986.