LOS ANGELES – With 16 minutes remaining in one of the semifinals in the Pacific-12 Conference women’s basketball tournament, the improbable seemed possible.
Washington State – which lost 13 of its final 15 regular-season games – had a significant chance to play one of the nation’s perennial powers for the championship.
Instead, magic collided with reality.
California’s interior dominance overshadowed the Cougars’ defensive intensity, and the second-seeded Bears earned a 64-49 victory Friday at Staples Center.
Cal (24-8) faces top-seeded Stanford for the tournament championship today. But WSU (13-20) emerges with perhaps a more lasting achievement.
“Women’s basketball is back at Washington State,” coach June Daugherty said. “We’ve arrived as a program. Now we know we can play at a very, very high level.”
The Cougars, seeded 11th, not only won their first game in the history of the conference tournament. They became the lowest-seeded team to reach the semifinals.
“I’m just proud to be a part of the group who really changed the program,” said guard April Cook, who finished with 10 points. Sage Romberg led WSU with 11 points.
“They’re already talking about next year,” Daughery said of her players. “That’s a great sign.”
The Bears began with an 8-0 blitz in the first 4:07 and built a 22-13 lead with 7:37 left in the first half. But the Cougars rallied to force a 26-all halftime tie, then relied on their defense to take early control of the second half.
WSU forced six turnovers in the first 4:30 of that half and converted them into seven points to move ahead 35-30 with 15:44 to play. For the game, the Cougars generated 25 turnovers, 14 from steals, and used them to score 24 points. Rossetta Adzasu tied a career-best with six steals.
Then WSU’s shooting and rebounding collapsed.
During the next 8 minutes, the Cougars made only two baskets and grabbed just one offensive rebound. As a result, Cal went on a 12-4 surge to move ahead 42-39 with 8:49 left. Gennifer Brandon led the spree with six points.
“They really got out and challenged our shooters,” Daugherty said. “They were really up in Sage’s grill, the same with Brandi Thomas, April Cook.”
Thomas made a lay-in off Rosetta Adzadu’s steal, then added a free throw to tie the score at 42 with 7:43 left. But Cal responded with a 14-2 blitz that resulted in a 56-44 advantage with 3:13 left.
“With about 8 minutes to go,” Daugherty said, “we just ran out of gas.”
The Bears controlled both backboards, especially in the second half. Cal outrebounded the Cougars 24-5 under their own glass in the half, and scored 24 of 38 points in the lane.
Cal grabbed total 42 rebounds at WSU’s backboard, compared to the Cougars’ eight, in establishing a 59-25 rebounding advantage.
Brandon led the Bears with 15 rebounds while scoring 10 points. Brittany Boyd, Cal’s point guard, added 10 rebounds to go with 14 points and nine assists.
“They were a lot more tenacious on the glass than the first time we played them, if that could be possible,” Daugherty said of a 60-55 loss Jan. 22. “They have a tremendous front line and they just keep bringing in fresh bodies.”
After the loss, Daugherty chose to revel in the future.
“We have six very, very good signings coming into the program,” she said. “I know from the text message and phone calls I’ve gotten in the last three days that they’re really proud to be joining this program. … They want to take it to the next step. They want to be in that final game.”
(2) Stanford 52, Arizona St. 43: Nnemkadi Ogwumike had 24 points and 12 rebounds, and the top-seeded Cardinal (30-1) overcame their worst shooting of the season to beat the Sun Devils (20-11).
Ogwumike’s younger sister, Chiney, added 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Cardinal, who are in pursuit of their ninth tournament championship.
They won their 27th straight game, equaling the longest winning streak in school history.
Stanford also extended its winning streak against conference opponents to 77.