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Cal beats LSU, gets to first Elite 8

Sun., March 31, 2013, midnight

California dreamin’, indeed.

The Cal women’s basketball team found the fast lane Saturday night, pulling away from LSU and cruising into the first Elite Eight appearance in school history.

When their shots weren’t falling for most of the game, the Bears turned up the defensive pressure and defeated the Tigers 73-63 at the Arena.

In what is already the most successful season in school history, the second-seeded Bears are one win away from an appearance in the Final Four. A victory over Georgia on Monday night would send Cal (31-3) to New Orleans next weekend.

The Bears found the fast lane just in time against an LSU team that fields just eight healthy players. Making the most of a short roster but a towering inside game, the sixth-seeded Lady Tigers (22-12) trailed by only five points with 8:20 to play, but finally were undone by a deeper Cal team.

Leading 50-45 with 8:41 to play, the Bears outscored LSU 12-1 over the next 4 minutes to take a 62-46 lead and were never threatened in the final minutes.

It wasn’t easy.

After watching a gritty LSU team rally for a 26-26 halftime tie, Cal outscored the Tigers 8-2 to start the second half on steals by Layshia Clarendon and Brittany Boyd.

But LSU came back with two steals of their own, tying the game at 34 on Chanece McKinney’s layup with 14:28 left.

The Bears jumped out to an 11-6 lead on a layup by Brittany Boyd just 4 minutes into the game, but couldn’t find their range the rest of the half. Cal was 10 for 34 from the field and just 1 for 8 from 3-point range. LSU was scarcely better, going 12 for 30 and missing all three attempts from long range.

Otherwise, the Lady Tigers gave as good as they got in the first half, matching the Bears’ pace and beating their intensity.

McKinney swatted away five Cal shots in the first half alone, and matched teammate Theresa Plaisance with five rebounds in the first 20 minutes.

The Tigers also stayed fresh. Seven minutes into the game, LSU coach Nikki Caldwell subbed en masse, giving a two-minute rest to every starter except Plaisance.

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