Cal rallies past Georgia to reach first Final Four
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP)
Gottlieb understood the drought and the difficulty in getting to the national semifinals. That's partly why the grin on her face was so wide Monday night when Cal finally snapped that 25-year streak, sending the Golden Bears to New Orleans for the Final Four.
''These kids are brought in,'' Gottlieb said. ''So many things go into it and then you have to get a little lucky and then things have to go right, so I'm really conscious of this is special.''
Layshia Clarendon scored 17 of her 25 points in the second half and overtime, and California rallied from 10 down with less than 7 minutes left to beat Georgia 65-62 in the Spokane Regional final, advancing to the national semifinals for the first time in school history.
Long Beach State in 1988 was the last team from the western part of the country other than Stanford to reach the Final Four. During that 25-year span, eight different programs in the West reached the regional finals. But whether it was Long Beach State, Washington, USC, UCLA, Colorado, Utah, Arizona State or Gonzaga, they all came up one game short of advancing - sometimes at the hands of Stanford.
Not these Golden Bears (32-3), who were picked by President Barack Obama to win the regional in his bracket.
''This is still better than my wildest dreams,'' Gottlieb said.
The loss ended Georgia coach Andy Landers' hope of reaching the Final Four for the first time since 1999. Georgia last reached the regional finals in 2004 and this was the Lady Bulldogs' 11th trip to the regional finals.
And it nearly became Landers' sixth Final Four.
''They made more plays than we did and they deserve to win the game,'' Landers said. ''I'm disappointed, but I'm proud of our basketball team and the run that we have made.''
Shacobia Barbee led Georgia (28-7) with 14 points and 10 rebounds, but the Lady Bulldogs' surprising postseason run that included an upset of Stanford came to a painful end.
''I don't think the words can even explain right now. Disappointed, hurt,'' said Georgia's Jasmine James, who had 11 points before fouling out. ''To have something that you've always wanted to be able to do, just be so close, and to end up getting outworked for it, it hurts.''
California will go to the Final Four on the side of the bracket completely blown open by the stunning loss of top-ranked Baylor in the regional semifinals. The Golden Bears will play Tennessee or Louisville in the national semifinals.
It didn't look like another game awaited the Golden Bears, who trailed 49-39 with 6:46 left after Barbee hit a pair of free throws. The Bears got back in it by halftime, overcoming a horrible shooting start, but each run early in the second half was rebuffed by the Lady Bulldogs. Cal missed 18 of its first 19 shots to start the game.
Finally Cal found an answer. Afure Jemerigbe hit her first 3-pointer after missing her previous six attempts. Clarendon scored four straight points and Talia Caldwell got a bucket in the paint. Caldwell then hit a putback of Jemerigbe's missed free throw to tie it at 50.
Tiaria Griffin missed from 3-point range for Georgia and Cal's Brittany Boyd was fouled driving to the rim by James, her fifth foul, leaving Georgia without its floor leader. Boyd hit both free throws and Cal had its first lead since 17-16.
Not having James on the floor had an immediate effect. Georgia turned it over on its next two possessions, helped by a pair of blocked shots by Jemerigbe, the second with 51 seconds left.
But the Bears' free throw struggles that nearly cost them in the second round against South Florida returned when Jemerigbe missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 27 seconds left. Griffin missed another 3-point attempt, but Anne Marie Armstrong got the rebound and scored with 8.5 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. It was Georgia's only field goal over the final 7:45.
''Our whole season has prepped us well for this night,'' Caldwell said. ''Our team's been there, we have done that, so we knew what we needed to get done.''
Georgia went up 55-52 when Khaalidah Miller hit a 3 to start overtime, but the Bears then took command. Jemerigbe hit a 3-pointer with 2:48 left to give Cal a 59-55 lead and Clarendon added a rebound putback for a 61-55 advantage with 1:26 remaining.
Barbee hit a pair of free throws with 1:03 left, but instead of fouling, Georgia chose to play defense. Clarendon made them pay, spinning away from Barbee and hitting a 15-footer with 37.9 seconds left for a 63-57 lead.
Georgia got within 64-62, but Clarendon split free throws with 2.1 seconds left and Barbee's desperation shot was off.
''I was smiling a lot in the second half even though we were losing,'' Clarendon said. ''This is why you play basketball for these big moments. Really enjoy them and just relish them.''