With a minute to play in overtime and the game still in doubt, Cal’s Layshia Clarendon delivered the signature play of the Spokane Regional.
The Bears had a 61-57 lead but needed to burn some clock. Clarendon did that and more, moving the ball up the court for 25 seconds, then driving the lane for a 12-foot, pull-up jumper with 38 seconds left that proved to be the game-winner in a 65-62 victory.
“That’s my favorite shot, the pull up,” Clarendon said. “That’ s why you play, for those big moments.”
The senior guard finished with a game-high 25 points on 9-of-18 shooting, a trio of 3-point shots and a lot of intangibles that didn’t show up on the stat sheet.
With the Bears trailing 49-39 with less than seven minutes to play, it was Clarendon who filled “my role of being poised and solid.”
Over the next three minutes, Clarendon delivered a jumper at the six-minute mark to make it 49-44, then hit two free throws to pull the Bears to within 50-46.
In the overtime, Clarendon delivered from the backside, grabbing a rebound and getting a layin off a miss by teammate Brittany Boyd to extend Cal’s lead to 61-55.
“She’s the glue,” said Cal coach Lindsay Gottfried.
Clarendon is also the MVP of the Spokane Regional. Other members of the All-Regional team team were Cal’s Afure Jemerighe, Jasmine James and Shacobia Barbee of Georgia and Chiney Ogwumike of Stanford.
Even as California missed 17 of its first 18 shots from the field, the Bears stayed in the game by staying tough on the boards.
That’s been a strength all year for Cal, which averages almost 12 rebounds better than its opponents. Against Georgia, the count was 54-41, thanks largely to 26 offensive rebounds compared with 16 for the Lady Bulldogs.
“We don’t do rebounding drills, but we embrace it,” Cal coach Gottlieb said. “I thought that was of course their focus – to box us out – but can they do it for 40 minutes?”
With starter Gennifer Brandon struggling, the Bears got a season-high 11 rebounds from reserve Reshanda Gray, eight of them on the offensive glass.
“Their post players are relentless on the boards, and they made more plays than we did,” Georgia coach Andy Landers said.
New kid on block
“Words can’t describe it,” said Gottlieb of Cal’s first appearance in the Final Four, a landmark achievement that makes the Bears only the third Pac-12 team to make it that far. Stanford and USC are the others.
The win also gave Gottlieb her fifth NCAA tournament win, the most in school history, which perhaps was even sweeter after the Bears trailed by as many as 10 points late in the second half.
“Sometimes it’s a little gritty, but these kids have so much fight in them,” Gottlieb said. “I’m so happy we’re still playing and excited to go to New Orleans.”