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California, LSU work through tough times to get this chance

Cal forward Gennifer Brandon, right, averages 12.5 points and a team-high 11.3 rebounds. (Associated Press)

For the California women’s basketball team, adversity is like a useless rear-view mirror, tossed aside on the road to the Sweet 16.

For LSU, tough times are seemingly their own reward, something to cherish almost as much as a chance to advance another step in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.

Saturday night at the Arena, the Bears and Tigers get a chance to test those two approaches and two different playing styles in the late game at the Spokane Regional.

Tipoff is scheduled for at 8:32 p.m. The winner will face either Stanford or Georgia on Monday night for a chance to advance to the Final Four on April 7-9 in New Orleans.

The second-seeded Golden Bears (30-3) are here partly because they managed to right themselves in overtime after missing 8 of 11 free throws and blowing a 10-point lead in the last 88 seconds against South Florida.

“I think those mistakes, we’re going to learn from them,” said Cal guard Layshia Clarendon, “but they’re things that we kind of already know.

“March is about ‘survive and advance’.”

No one knows that better than LSU, which is down to seven healthy players – “the Magnificent Seven” – who got past Penn State 75-71 on Tuesday to improve to 22-11.

“We’ve really turned it around,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said at Friday’s press conference at the Arena. “And we’ve done it with a very short roster, but a very committed roster.”

A lack of depth has forced Caldwell into practices that are sometimes little more than walkthroughs, and games that force her players to play smarter and not commit silly fouls.

The unranked Tigers will be tested by a balanced Cal team that plays an up-tempo style and thrives in transition. The Bears are led by Clarendon, who averages 16 points and four rebounds; forward Gennifer Brandon averages 12.5 points and a team-high 11.3 rebounds.

The sixth-ranked Bears are one of the top rebounding teams in the country, with a plus-11.6 edge on opponents. Not coincidentally, the Bears are seeking their first Elite Eight appearance in school history.

“The season has been more enjoyable and spectacular than I think anyone could have imagined,” second-year Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said.

The Tigers are led by 6-foot-5 post Theresa Plaisance, who averages 17 points and 8.2 rebounds. But in two NCAA tournament games, it’s been senior guard Adrienne Webb who’s carried the scoring load.

“Well, it’s a crucial time in the season,” said Webb, who’s averaged 22 points in the tournament. “Everybody wants to play in the NCAA tournament. For me, this is my last go-round, so I’ve wanted to play hard each and every game, just for my team.”


California won the first Pac-12 championship in program history, ending the season as co-champions with Stanford with a 17-1 conference record. … The Tigers are playing in the state of Washington for the first time since they beat Georgia 62-60 in the 2004 West Regional final in Seattle. … LSU junior guard Jeanne Kenney missed the Penn State contest after suffering a head injury in the first round, but is in Spokane. She is day-to-day.