California faces Georgia for spot in Final Four
Stanford and California were expected to settle the Spokane
Nobody told Georgia.
”Georgia basketball has a lot of pride within it and a lot of
history behind it,” Georgia guard Jasmine James said. ”To just be
able to make those steps to now be in the Elite Eight and to be in
the game to be able to compete to go to the Final Four is
definitely a great place to be.”
Instead of the final chapter of a Stanford-California trilogy,
the regional final on Monday night will have the Golden Bears
(31-3) and the Lady Bulldogs (28-6), with Georgia looking for its
first Final Four trip since 1999.
The Lady Bulldogs stunned Stanford 61-59 in the regional
semifinals on Saturday night, while California knocked off LSU
73-63 to reach the regional finals for the first time in school
For California and second-year coach Lindsay Gottlieb, this is
Now they have a shot at being the first team from the western
U.S. not named Stanford to reach the Final Four since Long Beach
State in 1988.
During that 25-year span, eight different programs in the West
have 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 – sometimes at the hands of Stanford – from getting to the
California gets the next chance to end that drought and perhaps
help change the perception that women’s basketball out West is not
”I’ve been in conversations with my East Coast friends who
joked with us last year when we played a good game against Notre
Dame, `Wow, you guys are pretty good. We didn’t know there was
basketball other than Stanford,”’ Gottlieb said on Sunday.
”So it is, I think, a continual process of saying there is good
basketball on the West Coast.
”There are other good teams, but we’re happy at this point to
be the ones that people are looking at.”
When the Golden Bears lost in the Pac-12 Conference tournament
semifinals to UCLA, the belief was they would probably still get a
No. 2 seed in the tournament but likely get shipped away from
Spokane where Stanford was almost assured of the No. 1 seed.
Once California was placed in the same region, the assumption
was the Cardinal and Bears would see each other for a third time
this season in the regional final after the teams split their two
regular season games – including Cal ending Stanford’s 81-game
conference win streak back in January.
While there could be a bit of disappointment not to see Stanford
in the regional final, the Bears were respectful of Georgia on
”Survive and advance. We’re just happy we’re playing
tomorrow,” Cal center Talia Caldwell said. ”Both are great teams.
So we want to play whoever is next. It doesn’t matter who it was
going to be.”
Because the setting is new for Cal, Gottlieb has allowed her
players to embrace the success. They are a naturally fun group, who
celebrate everything; even stopping and getting smoothies on their
way to the Spokane Arena for Sunday’s practice.
”I think it’s really important not to be so focused on the next
thing that you don’t really take time to look around and enjoy the
moment,” Cal’s Layshia Clarendon said.
Getting this far in the tournament is another step for coach
Andy Landers in rebuilding his program.
While there was still success for most of the past decade –
20-win seasons, NCAA trips – the long-time coach felt his program
His senior class, highlighted by starters James, Jasmine Hassell
and Anne Marie Armstrong, are largely responsible for learning and
understanding what improvements needed to be made.
Combined with the impact of freshmen Tiaria Griffin and Shacobia
Barbee, the result is a surprising tournament run.
This is the 11th trip to the regional finals for Georgia and its
first since losing to LSU across the state in Seattle in 2004.
”The pieces that had made Georgia basketball special had
slipped. Those were the things that had broken, the work ethic, the
attitude, the camaraderie among the team. And I knew this and I
knew that it was going to be hard,” Landers said.
”When you let something big get down on its knees, and Georgia
basketball to us is big, it had stumbled a little bit, it’s hard to
get that giant back up. I knew it was going to be hard, I knew you
couldn’t do it in a day, you couldn’t do it in a month, couldn’t do
it in a year.”
Georgia upset Stanford because of a superb defensive effort in
the second half.
They contained Stanford star Chiney Ogwumike and held her to
eight points in the second half after 18 in the first, and the Lady
Bulldogs kept any of Stanford’s supporting cast from dominating.
Georgia was the sixth team this season to hold Stanford under 60
The defense Landers has raved about throughout the tournament
will be tested by the Golden Bears, who used their speed in
transition to pull away from LSU in the second half.
”They bring it. They got the athleticism, they’re high energy,
they’re going to play hard,” Landers said of Cal. ”They’re good
in transition, they’re good in the half court. They have all the