- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
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SPOKANE, Wash. -- As Georgia celebrated its 61-59 upset of top-seeded Stanford, the chant began from the corner with the Georgia pep band.
"S-E-C, S-E-C." Pretty soon, the LSU band, seated in the opposite corner of the gym, joined in.
But Cal spoiled the sing-a-long.
The Bears, willing to play as aggressively and as physically as any team in the SEC, completed the power shift in the Pac-12 on Saturday by defeating LSU 73-63 in the Spokane Regional nightcap, punching their ticket to their first Elite Eight.
So while Stanford, the team that has always stood in line in front of Cal, takes an early flight home Sunday morning, the Bears play on. How's that for a changing of the guard?
There will be no Stanford-Cal showdown. Instead, the Bears will take on the Georgia Lady Bulldogs, who knocked off Stanford with a stout defensive play and some big shots at the end of what was at times an excruciating defensive chess match. Georgia reaches its first regional final since 2004.
Cal's win was more rooted in chaos, bodies flying constantly, players barreling toward the basket with abandon. The Bears finally found some space in a back-and-forth game by getting out in transition (16-2 advantage in fast-break points) and coming through at the free throw line (26-of-41), a spot on the floor that has been their Achilles' heel all season.
And as their reward, the Bears likely will get more of the same Monday night against fourth-seeded Georgia (ESPN, 9:30 ET).
"Wow" was the first word out of the mouth of Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb. "We are in awe of this."
Layshia Clarendon smiled and nodded.
"Yeah, a little speechless," Clarendon said. "For us to be here right now, to get to experience this. We are in the Elite Eight, one game away from New Orleans. This is awesome."
Georgia had its own version of awesome in the early game. The Lady Bulldogs sent home the first No. 1 seed in this tournament by playing a smart, physical, relentless defensive game and by hitting big shots down the stretch to make up a nine-point second-half deficit.
After three straight trips to the Sweet 16, they finally took the next step to advance to their 11th regional final overall.
"We've been here, the senior class has been here," Georgia senior point guard Jasmine James said. "So to finally make it to the next step and go to the Elite Eight, and now to be going into another game to try to compete to go to the Final Four, is definitely back to where Georgia basketball needs to be."
Stanford, meanwhile, fell short of the Final Four as a No. 1 seed for the first time since 1998. Chiney Ogwumike -- who posted her 28th double-double Saturday with 26 points and 12 rebounds -- had a fabulous season, carrying the team most of the way, but there simply wasn't enough to complement her for a sixth straight Final Four. The Cardinal played some record-setting defense this season, but it only served to make up for the offensive deficiencies of having too few consistent scoring threats.
All season, getting to the Final Four felt like an uphill climb. Tara VanDerveer used the word "overachieved" to describe a 33-3 season and a No. 1 seed. Her enthusiasm for the team's prospects always seemed tempered.
"I'm proud of how far this team has come. I guess maybe what surprised me more is how well we did," VanDerveer said. "In some ways, I think it created a little bit of fool's gold in terms of, we're winning, Chiney's getting double-doubles and we had to gut out some games. But I think once we threw on injuries to people, it became a little bit of 'Mission Impossible.'"
Still, she thought there could have been more basketball to play this season.
"I just think it was a winnable game," VanDerveer said. "We had our chances."
Considering that the Cardinal made more field goals (25 to 22) than Georgia and pulled down more rebounds (41 to 39), it's hard to argue.
Ogwumike, who has experienced the devastation and deep disappointment of Final Four losses in each of the past two years, was dry-eyed after this one.
"I think the reason I'm not going ballistic right now is we were 33-3, correct?" Ogwumike said. "Losing considerable seniors, having people step up, we were without Toni [Kokenis] for a considerable stretch. So I'm really proud of how we were facing our form of adversity as a team."
In the end, VanDerveer quoted Ogwumike's father, Peter, who said, "Every disappointment is a blessing."
"We competed, but we had to really go as hard as we could, worked as hard as we could to get where we are," she said. "I'm not disappointed in what this team accomplished."
Cal, the second fiddle no longer, has more work to do.
The Bears broke a 26-all deadlock at halftime by shaking loose its offensive stars in Clarendon and Gennifer Brandon and pushing the tempo.
"I really just looked them in the eye at halftime and said we need to be better at what we do," Gottlieb said. "I told them we need to be more Cal basketball-ish in the second half, and I thought that's exactly what they did."
Clarendon, who finished with a team-high 19 points, said the Bears are riding the wave of a season that has been the result of preparation, work and great team chemistry.
"We are beyond prepared for this kind of game," Clarendon said. "Clearly we've never played in this game before, so I guess we have nothing to lose in that we want to keep playing with each other. We don't want our dream to end; we don't want to take these jerseys off yet. We are not wanting to give this up for one second."
What happened to Stanford just 30 minutes before the Bears took the floor had no bearing on Cal's performance, Gottlieb said. But it might have helped change the landscape of West Coast women's basketball.