- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
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SPOKANE, Wash. -- Quick reaction to Cal's 65-62 overtime win over Georgia in the regional final in Spokane on Monday night.
The Bears earned their first trip to the Final Four with a gutty performance in which they came back from a 10-point deficit with less than seven minutes to play.
Overview: This was a game between two very similar teams -- teams that can defend well and score when they needed to, and teams that were going to cancel out some of each other's strengths. Both started horribly on the offensive end, with Cal hitting just one of its first 18 field goal attempts to start the game. Georgia wasn't lighting up the scoreboard, either, but the Bulldogs were opportunistic, building a lead by hitting timely shots and then hanging on to go up at halftime, 26-21.
The Bears couldn't get enough offensive rhythm to gain momentum for a long time and couldn't use their prowess on the glass to turn rebounds into points, as junior Gennifer Brandon struggled mightily. And then late in the second half, facing a 10-point deficit, something shifted. The Bears found a way to have fun and open things up.
Turning point: Down 10 with 6:46 to go, Cal went on a 13-1 run over the next four minutes to assume a 52-50 lead. During the spurt, Talia Caldwell's putback after teammate Afure Jemerigbe missed the front end of a one-and-one knotted the score at 50. Then, after Georgia guard Jasmine James fouled out on the next possession, Cal guard Brittany Boyd hit a pair of free throws to give the Bears the lead with 2:20 to play.
Georgia's Anne Marie Armstrong hit a jumper with three seconds left in the game to force overtime.
And even after a quick 3-pointer by Georgia's Tiaria Griffin pushed the lead to 55-52 in overtime, the Bears forged ahead on a steal and layup by Boyd and a 3-pointer by Jemerigbe.
Key player: Layshia Clarendon. The Bears senior held things down when the offense was going nowhere and was calm, cool and collected even as the Bears faced a double-digit deficit in the second half. Clarendon finished the game with 25 points, including an overtime dagger when she brought down the ball methodically, let the time burn and then easily hit a pull-up jumper with 37.9 seconds left in overtime to give Cal a 63-57 advantage. Her touch-perfect shot and unflappable poise are the main reasons the Bears are making their first ever trip to the national semifinals.
Key stat: Cal outrebounded Georgia by a 54-41 margin and had a plus-10 advantage (26-16) on the offensive glass. The Bears were actually outscored in second-chance points, 18-17, but needed every one of them to win.
What's next: The Bears head to New Orleans for their first appearance in the national semifinals, where they will play the winner of Tuesday's Oklahoma City Regional final between No. 2 seed Tennessee and No. 5 seed Louisville. Cal becomes the first Pac-12 team not named Stanford to reach the Final Four since USC in 1986. Georgia ends the season at 28-7.
14dBonnie D. Ford