California stifles Washington to advance to Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament semifinals
SEATTLE – California coach Lindsay Gottlieb admitted earlier this week that her team was disappointed with finishing fourth in the Pac-12 after entering the season with lofty expectations. Winning the Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament, though, would probably flip that feeling pretty quickly.
The Golden Bears (22-8) advanced to the tournament's semifinals for the eighth time in the past nine years by beating Washington, 69-53, in the quarterfinals Friday night at KeyArena.
Cal has never won a Pac-10/12 tournament championship. It faces nine-seed Colorado on Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Networks (and with free access on Pac-12.com and Pac-12 Now) to play for the right to make history.
Cal senior guard Brittany Boyd said the Golden Bears are trying to prove a point.
"Being fourth (in the conference), I think that's something we're not OK with," she said. "I think playing in the Pac-12 Tournament is giving us the opportunity to show who we really are. We want to win a Pac-12 championship, and that's always been our mindset coming in."
Boyd provided a double-double Friday, leading the team with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore guard Mercedes Jefflo scored 16 and Pac-12 Player of the Year Reshanda Gray chipped in 13 points and nine rebounds.
"I thought Boyd set the tone tonight, and Reshanda (Gray) is such a beast in the paint," Gottlieb said. "We're just going to take this one, enjoy it for five seconds, and work on the next one."
Cal needed contributions from everywhere on a night the Huskies were sharp early, extending their lead to 15-7 when redshirt junior forward Talia Walton buried a three-pointer with 11:57 left in the first half. This after the Pac-12's leading scorer Kelsey Plum drained a pair of three's and scored eight of the Huskies' first 10 points. Briefly, UW seemed the fresher team after a hard-fought win over Utah on Thursday night in the opening round.
But when Cal switched to a 1-3-1 extended zone defense, the Huskies began to struggle. They finished with 18 turnovers to Cal's 12.
It didn't take long after Washington's early spurt before Cal took control. The Bears trimmed the lead to 19-12 before going on a 12-0 run to open up a five-point cushion. By halftime, the Golden Bears built the advantage to nine, 32-23.
"They're really long and they're active," said UW coach Mike Neighbors. "They can really cover a lot of territory, and it makes us passive. We're not normally a passive team, but it's hard. We can work on it and try to simulate it all we want. It's just really hard to do that."
But the Huskies opened after the break on a 11-4 spurt, capped when senior forward Aminah Williams followed a Jazmine Davis miss with a short jumper to cut Cal's lead to 36-34. After Gottlieb burned a timeout, Boyd fired back with a three-pointer to spark a 10-0 run.
[Related video: Cal's Brittany Boyd reflects on quarterfinal win over Washington]
The Huskies simply couldn't mount a response. Davis led UW with 21 points and Plum finished with 15. The Huskies (23-9) now have to wait until the March 16 NCAA women's selection show for good news. They're expected to receive an NCAA women's tournament bid for the first time since 2007.
"I think we would break precedent if we did not get an invite," Neighbors said. "With our RPI where it's at, with the number of Top 10 wins that we have, Top 25 wins. We had 11 wins in a conference that's really deep this year. That number normally gets you an invite... it's gonna be a long 10 days waiting to find out but I will rest pretty easily thinking that it should happen."
When asked if the Huskies will be in the women’s Big Dance, Plum agreed with her coach.
“Better be,” she said.