Clarendon is necessary for a championship run

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The first time I saw Layshia Clarendon play, she hit a buzzer beater. There is a lot to be said about first impressions, but my first encounter with Clarendon was a spectacular one.

In a game against USC on Feb. 11th, 2012, I watched as the Bears struggled with the middle-of-the-road Trojans. At the end of the game, Cal somehow had the chance to send the game into overtime, only down by three. The Bears looked as if they were going to squander it away.

The team could not get a good shot off in the last possession. But in the midst of the chaos, the ball somehow found its way into the hands of Clarendon.

I stood there amazed as Clarendon threw up a prayer at the buzzer. Seconds later, Haas Pavilion erupted as the ball swished through the net.

Cal would go on to lose the game 76-75 in overtime, but I learned something very important about Cal women’s basketball that day. I was impressed by the speed and athleticism of freshman Brittany Boyd, which left me confident that she would only get better with time.

I watched as sophomore Gennifer Brandon worked her low-post magic en route to 22 points and 17 rebounds.

But as impressed as I was with the youth of the team, I knew then that this team would make that final step into the realm of the elite under Clarendon’s wing.

Clarendon is currently in her senior campaign, leading the Bears to their highest ranking since the No. 3 2008-2009 squad. She currently sits at 1,542 points — good enough for ninth place all-time at Cal. Based on her season average, she is on track to finish sixth all-time. Clarendon’s name has emerged on many award watch lists, including the list for the prestigious Wade Trophy given to most outstanding NCAA Division 1 women’s basketball player.

While the list of Clarendon’s achievements is growing with every contest, her play on the court remains the same. Clarendon’s ability to contribute in all aspects of the game is a blessing for the Bears, but it is her leadership that has been the real prize.

Many of Cal’s games this year have gone wire to wire, but it was Clarendon that ended up being the deciding factor. It was Clarendon who took on the defensive assignment of covering the opponent’s best player. It was Clarendon who stepped up to the free-throw line to ice the game. It was Clarendon who was the calming influence in the huddle after a teammate’s mistake.

In Clarendon’s last lap, she is making the most of every opportunity. And that’s why Cal must realize this may be the best chance the team has to win it all. The Bears are a projected No. 2 seed in the fast-approaching NCAA tournament, and the team must not be satisfied with anything other than at least an Elite Eight appearance this year.

If the team fails at this task, the team will most likely find condolence in their “bright future.” They will look to budding stars Boyd and Reshanda Gray and their fourth top-20 recruiting class in five years. But the team must not accept failure of any sort. This year’s senior class with Clarendon at the helm is well-equipped for a deep run in the tourney.

The leadership of a strong senior class can never be understated — just talk to the men’s basketball team. Cal is currently having an identity crisis after the departure of seniors Harper Kamp and Jorge Gutierrez, the heart and soul of the 2011-2012 team.

In a similar fashion, Clarendon is the motor that makes the Cal engine turn. There must be a sense of urgency this year more than ever to get the job done.

The buzzer is about to sound, but Layshia Clarendon will not always be there.

Austin Crochetiere covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].