Cal women’s basketball defeats LSU, advances to first ever Elite Eight appearance

Joshua Bessex at The Daily of Univ. of Washington/Courtesy

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On Saturday night, the Bay prevailed over the Bayou at Spokane, Wash.

The No. 2 seed Bears defeated No. 6 seed LSU (22-12), 73-63, to seal a trip to its first ever Elite Eight appearance in program history. The victory also set a program record for most wins in a single season with 31.

Guard Layshia Clarendon and forward Gennifer Brandon once again led the Bears, scoring 19 and 17 points respectively and proving crucial in maintaining a close first half with the Tigers and running away with the lead in the second half. Guard Brittany Boyd trailed behind with 14 points.

Clarendon, who shot 5-for-13 and recorded six steals, was initially silent in the first half — the All-Pac-12 guard scored only two points in the first half but exploded for 17 in the second.

Cal initially leaned on Brandon to produce the points early in the game. The junior notched the first four points for the Bears inside the post. On the night, she added another double-double to her resume with 17 points and 13 rebounds.

While Cal (31-3) took the early 9-4 lead, the Tigers rebounded quickly. Following a timeout, LSU heightened its defensive pressure and allowed only one Cal point for another three and a half minutes. For the remainder of the first half, the Tigers suffocated the Bears’ offense.

Cal was stuffed out by forwards Shanece McKinney and Theresa Plaisance who used their height advantage to take the Bears out of range.  The LSU bigs controlled the offensive and defensive glass. By reducing Cal’s second-chance scoring opportunities, the Tigers kept the game close.

McKinney led the effort as a blocking machine, swatting away five Bears’ shots in the first half. In one minute-long span, McKinney swatted away shots from Brandon and Talia Caldwell.

Caldwell especially struggled in this game. The senior, who played limited minutes in the last game against University of South Florida due to her poor free throw form, received few opportunities again on Saturday. She only attempted four shots, making one, and only nabbed six rebounds in the entire game.

LSU guard Adrienne Webb was also a critical factor. The senior guard, who logged six points off 3-for-6 shooting, hounded Clarendon and silenced the guard who has been averaging 16 points per game this season in the first half.

After trading baskets, LSU took advantage of a turnover from Bears guard Layshia Clarendon taking its a 18-16 lead, its first of the game, on a fastbreak play.

Nevertheless, the Bears resiliently held on. They never got behind by more than two, and after Brandon made two free throws, the team went into halftime tied at 26.

The second half proved a more fruitful start for Cal. The Bears displayed much more energy than the Tigers and quickly rattled off an 8-2 start. Only a few minutes in, the Bears seized a 34-28 lead.

While LSU matched the effort to make it 36-35 with 13:54 remaining, Clarendon took matters into her own hands. In the first eight minutes into the second half, she notched eight points. She utilized screens more effectively and found space to take her signature stop-and-pop jumpers.

With the Tigers slowing down, Cal took advantage on both ends of the court. The Bears forced 16 turnovers and shut down LSU to two points over a five-minute stretch, ballooning its lead to 54-45.

As the Bears continued pulling away, the Tigers employed the “hack-a-Shaq” strategy that fouled the Bears to one of its greatest weaknesses — the free throw line. The Bears were much better from the charity stripe than against USF last week  — hitting 65.6 percent in the second half.

With the fourth-seeded Georgia upsetting the top seed Stanford earlier on Saturday, Cal faces the Bulldogs instead of the expected Pac-12 rivals on  Monday night. The Bulldogs impressively upset the Cardinal with stellar defense down the stretch late in the game, shutting down star guard Amber Orrange and forward Chiney Ogwumike.

Vincent Tzeng covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].