Survive and advance. That’s exactly what the Cal women’s basketball team did in Monday night’s game in Lubbock, Tex. — survive.
With 58 seconds left in their second round matchup against the 10-seed South Florida, the second-seeded Bears held a comfortable 68-58 lead. But a series of mental errors by Cal and the ensuing 3-pointers of desperation allowed the Bulls to finish the game on an 12-2 run and send the game into overtime.
Although it took the extra five minutes, the Bears prevailed, 82-78. It wasn’t pretty, but the Bears (30-3) are moving onto the sweet 16 for the second time in program history since the 2008-2009 season.
Cal came out strong behind smart plays from guard Brittany Boyd. At the 14:17 mark, Boyd, who recorded 21 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists in Saturday’s game against Fresno State, shot through her opponents’ passing lane and stole the ball from them, finishing seconds later with an easy layup.
The Cal lead had already grown to seven at 15-8 behind a balanced scoring attack, with every starter scoring by 5 minutes into the contest.
South Florida guard Inga Orekhova was singlehandedly keeping the Bulls (22-11) close. The junior had 11 points in the first 11 minutes, going 3-for-6 from behind the 3-point arc. With 7:14 left in the half, the Bears and Bulls were deadlocked at 22.
Guard Layshia Clarendon gave the Bears’ momentum going into the half with an impressive 3-point play as time expired. In an isolation play, Clarendon dribbled left, pulled up for a jumper in the lane which she hit and earned a foul.
Cal was up 37-32 at the break, behind Clarendon’s 17 points on 7-for-10 from the field. She finished with a team-high 27 points.
The second half began with both teams running the floor. In transition, Boyd sidestepped an opponent to finish gracefully at the rim at the 16:59 mark. Seconds later, Clarendon found a forward Gennifer Brandon streaking down the court for another easy layup.
The momentum was rapidly shifting in the Bears’ favor as they led 44-37, but a well-timed South Florida timeout settled things down.
For the next few minutes, Cal did their best to maintain the fast-paced tempo, but the squad simply couldn’t convert their layups.
Cal could not seal the deal, paving the way for the Bulls’ comeback. With 1.7 seconds left, USF had pulled within three at 70-67 and had one more inbound play. Clarendon fouled Orekhova in the act of shooting a three. Orekhova made the first two, and Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb called a timeout to ice her from equalizing the game.
It didn’t matter.
Orekhova swished the last free throw through, sending the game into overtime. In a shocking turn of events, the Bears were playing for their survival in the NCAA Tournament after holding onto a comfortable lead just seconds earlier.
Despite the setback, Cal went to business as soon as overtime started. The Bears jumped to an early 76-73 in the extra session, and a critical layup in traffic by forward Reshanda Gray pushed the lead to five. The Bulls stayed within striking distance, making the majority of their points from the free throw line.
With 52.2 seconds left and down three, South Florida intentionally fouled Afure Jemerigbe. The junior guard nailed both to push the lead back to five at 80-75.
Following a quick South Florida layup with 29 seconds left, Clarendon got trapped in the corner off the inbound and lost the ball to a tie up with the possession arrow in favor of the Bulls.
Errors committed by Cal had left the door wide open for the Bulls, but they failed to take advantage. The Bulls got tied up on their inbounds, giving the ball right back to the Bears.
Jemerigbe stepped to the line, made one free throw, and that was the game.
Austin Crochetiere covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].