Cal advances to Pac-12 Tournament finals, ends Colorado's 'Cinderella' run
SEATTLE – The other glass slipper dropped for this year's "Cinderella" team as the four-seed California Golden Bears beat nine-seed Colorado 68-55 Saturday night at KeyArena to advance to the finals of the 2015 Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament.
Cal now faces a familiar foe and nemesis Stanford on Sunday at 6 p.m. PT on ESPN. The bitter rivals split the season series, with each team winning on the road.
The Golden Bears' eighth-straight win over the Buffs places them in their third conference title game and second since head coach Lindsay Gottlieb took over ahead of the 2011-12 season. Stanford has beaten Cal in both of those contests.
"The main thing is that we are in a Pac-12 championship game and, oh yeah, it happens to be against Stanford," Gottlieb said. "But we're just excited to be among the last two teams standing in a conference that's going to have several teams in the NCAA tournament."
After a game of runs in the first half, Brittany Boyd flipped the switch and took over the game as Cal tried to pull away from Colorado. Up six early in the second half, Boyd put together a scintillating sequence that included two steals, an and-one and seven straight points as the Bears pulled out to a 42-31 lead with less than 15 minutes to play.
"This is our platform right here," Boyd said. "This tournament is a showcase of our talent. Everybody is invested. Everybody wants to win. I'm enjoying it."
With less than nine minutes to play, Jamee Swan's offensive rebound and put-back cut the Bears' lead to 50-45. But that would be as close as Colorado could get.
From there, it was Pac-12 Player of the Year Reshanda Gray's turn to take over. Her own mini-run of six-straight points restored order for the Bears.
At the 1:15 mark, Gabby Green provided the dagger. Her corner three swished through and gave Cal a decisive 10-point lead. The Bears would cruise to the finish line and into the finals.
The loss ends a brilliant two-game stretch for the Buffs. Despite the disappointing ending, coach Linda Lappe was proud of her team.
"I'm really proud of our effort," Lappe said. "We talked about leaving everything on the court and I felt like we were able to do that. When that happens, you're not disappointed with the outcome."
[Related: Pac-12 Tournament day 3 photo gallery]
Colorado's senior trio of Lexy Kresl, Jen Reese and Jasmine Sborov, who had been the driving force behind CU's run in the tourney, started the game off on the right foot.
The three combined to score the Buffs' first 10 points. Five minutes in, Colorado led 10-3 with Cal fighting through early sloppiness and cold shooting.
The Bears started 1-of-14 from the field before Gray converted an and-one to cut the Buffs' lead in half, 12-6, at the 12:34 mark.
Mercedes Jefflo's three put Cal on top, 16-15, amidst a 12-0 Bear burst that put the No. 4 seed in the lead, 18-15, with under 10 minutes to play in the half.
Boyd, always involved in everything Cal does whether she is scoring, passing or playing hawking defense, knew the time was right for a run.
"We started getting out in transition and making plays we were capable of," Boyd said. "It was like, let's go. That was their little section of getting points and now it's our turn."
After the Buffs clawed their way to a 20-20 tie, Cal reeled off nine straight to begin to pull away. The cold-shooting bug bit the Buffs next, as they missed nine of their last 10 shots in the half.
One of the tournament's breakout stars, CU forward Jamee Swan, was held to one point in the first half. Cal guard Brittany Boyd shot only 2-for-7 but showed off her all-around game, leading her team with seven rebounds and four assists.
Boyd made a run at a triple-double, ending the game with a team-high 18 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. Gray poured in 17 points and was a rock at the line, converting 7-of-8 free throw attempts.
In her last Pac-12 game in a CU jersey, Jen Reese led the Buffs with 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting. Kresl was next with 11 points and Sborov finished with seven points, seven rebounds and four assists.
Sunday night's matchup with Stanford stands to be a difficult test for the Bears. The Cardinal has won all six of its meetings with Cal in Pac-12 Tournament play. Against Colorado, Boyd played all 40 minutes for the third time this season. She will be tested against Stanford point guard Amber Orrange, who she looks forward to seeing on the court.
"She's a fun competitor to go against," Boyd said. "I think we both have a mutual respect for one another, but I really think she's a great player."
Cal seems to be a lock for the NCAA tournament, but there might be even more at stake Sunday: a chance to host NCAA tournament games at Haas Pavilion.
"We'd love the opportunity to be one of 16 teams hosting NCAA tournament games," Gottlieb said. "I think that's something these wins gives us a boost with, but that's beyond our control. We're worried about trying to be the best team for 40 minutes Sunday."