No point in making things easy
Cal's remarkable season continues, with a 65-62 overtime victory Georgia which propels them into the Final Four in New Orleans next weekend. At several points during Monday night's game, it seemed like the Bears just didn't have it, then they'd come back, then they'd back on the ropes, and then they'd come back again, and when it seemed they were seconds away from a regulation victory, it slipped away. Georgia opened overtime with a three-point shot, but the Bears fought back to take a five-point lead, but still had to wait for a chance at a last-second half-court heave to miss before they were able to secure victory.
Over the first nine minutes, the Bears shot 1-of-18 from the field and were down 9-2, but they fought back to tie 9-9. A 7-0 run later in the first half gave Georgia a 23-17 lead and the Bulldogs carried a 26-21 lead into halftime. The Bulldogs stretched the lead out to nine, but the Bears brought it down to two at 36-34. Georgia stretched it back out to eight at 47-39, when Eliza Pierre stole the ball from Jasmine James. Pierre appeared headed for an easy layup when James grabbed her from behind. It should have been whistled a clear path foul as there was no other Georgia defender between Pierre and the basket. This should have given the Bears two free throws and the ball, which could have enable the Cal to close to within four or three, but the refs just called a foul.
Trailing 49-39, Cal rallied to take a 52-50 lead, but Afure Jemirigbe, who was outstanding for much of the game, missed the front end of a one-and-one with 26 seconds left. The Bears needed just one stop, but when Anne Marie Armstrong scored on a layup off a missed shot, which ended up sending the game into overtime.
Cal had a six-point lead in overtime, but missed two of four free throws in the final 14 seconds added some excitement to the proceedings.
Nonetheless the Bears at 32-3, now head to the Final Four where they'll play the Tuesday night winner of Louisville/Tennesee next Sunday.
Down 10, the Bears were well-positioned to rally
Even when trailing 49-39 with less than seven minutes left to play, three factors worked in the Bears factor - Georgia wasn't a good-shooting team, they didn't have a go-to player to bail out the offense, and Cal is an outstanding rebounding team. The Bears outrebounded Georgia 54-41, led by Reshanda Gray with 11, and Afure Jemirigbe, Talia Caldwell, and Brittany Boyd each with eight. While much will be made about Cal starting out shooting 1-for-18 from the field, note that during that last 12 minutes - seven of the second half and all five in overtime - Georgia shot just three of 18 from the field.
Step-up performances from Gray and Jemirigbe
With starting forward Gennifer Brandon having perhaps her worst game of the year, held scoreless on 0-for-7 shooting in 24 minutes, Gray filled ably with eight points and a season-high 11 rebounds, with eight of them coming on the offensive end. For the game, the Bears had 26 offensive rebounds, and were able to offset a bad shooting game by extending possessions.
Jemirigbe, who's 14 points were one off her season high, and eight rebounds tied her career high, stepped up big late in the game, her 3-point shot helped start Cal's run, cutting the deficit to seven, 49-42. Jemerigbe blocked two Georgia shots that could have tied the game in the last two minutes of the game, and her three-point shot in overtime but the Bears up 59-55.
Although by her standards, it wasn't her best game, Brittany Boyd kept Georgia's defense on its heels by racing upcourt every chance she got. She had to miss a significant amount of the second half after picking up her third foul, but she had energy to burn at the end of the game and in overtime. Her steal and layup put the Bears up 56-55 in overtime, her assist set up Jemerigbe's 3-pointer to put Cal up four, and her deflection on Georgia's final inbound play, kept Georgia from getting off a good shot that could have tied the game.
Layshia Clarendon came up big
There's an adage about how the great players never force the action but they let the game come to them. When the Bears were off to their awful 1-of-18 shooting start, one couldn't have blamed Clarendon if she'd decided to take initiative to get the offense going by taking more shots - especially because quick, if ill-advised, shots were available against the zone. Instead, she was patient, making a couple of big three pointers, but content to work her way into the Georgia defense to get a mid-range jumper.
Clarendon, who played all 45 minutes, was 9-of-18 from the field, with three three-point shots, scored a game-high 25 points. Clarendon's offensive contribution was such for that much of the game, ESPN would post a graphic comparing her production favorably with that of the rest of the team. With the Bears up four, Georgia switched out of their zone to go to a man-to-man defense, leaving Clarendon isolated on a defender. Clarendon set the defender up for a spin move, spun into the middle of the lane and hit a short jumper to put Cal up six, 63-57.
Georgia's curious decision not to foul
Cal's free throw foibles are well-known, and Monday was no exception as the Bears were just 12-of-24 from the free throw line. After Shacobia Barbee made two free throws to close the deficit to four at 61-57 with 1:03 left, Bulldogs had a decision to either foul or defend the possession. They chose to defend the possession, which chewed up more than 20 seconds and meant that they wouldn't get the ball back until there were less than 40 seconds left.
Compounding their problem, they chose to put a single defender on Clarendon, who scored almost too easily, giving the Bears a six-point lead. Considering that it was a two-possession game at the time, and the struggles that Georgia was having scoring, it was more important that they had the extra time for their offense to score.
If they fouled Cal, whether the Bears made zero, one, or both free throws, it would still be a two possession game and they'd have have about a minute left to work with. Cal hadn't shot free throws well all game, and it was missed free throws that were a big reason why the game went into overtime. But after Clarendon's lay-up gave Cal a six point lead with 38 seconds left, Georgia was't able to scored until there with 16 seconds left, but down four, it was all but hopeless.