SPOKANE, Wash. Layshia Clarendon was the first to get her hands on the regional championship trophy. Rightfully so, after getting Cal somewhere it has never gone before: the Final Four.
Clarendon scored 17 of her 25 points in the second half and overtime, and Cal rallied from down 10 with less than 7 minutes left to beat Georgia 65-62 in the Spokane Regional final and advance to the national semifinals for the first time in school history.
The second-seeded Bears became the first team from the western United States other than Stanford to reach the Final Four since Long Beach State in 1988. They did it with a gritty rally down the stretch and big shots by Clarendon, Afure Jemerigbe and Talia Caldwell.
During that 25-year span, eight different programs in the West have reached the regional finals. But whether it was Long Beach State, Washington, USC, UCLA, Colorado, Utah, Arizona State or Gonzaga, they all came up one game short sometimes at the hands of Stanford of advancing.
Cal, and second-year coach Lindsay Gottlieb, finally broke the string. Gottlieb threw her arms in the air when Shacobia Barbee's desperation half-court shot at the buzzer missed, and the coach wore a huge grin throughout the postgame celebration.
Jemerigbe finished with 14 and Caldwell 10, with six coming in the final 3:30 of regulation and in overtime.
Cal (32-3) was the selection of President Obama when he filled out his NCAA women's tournament bracket. The Bears proved him right.
Barbee led Georgia (28-7) with 14 points, but the Lady Bulldogs struggled down the stretch as Cal chipped away at the lead. It was just the third time this season Georgia lost after leading at halftime.
Georgia managed to force overtime despite going the final 7:45 of regulation with just one field goal. That came when Anne Marie Armstrong twice came up with offensive rebounds and scored underneath with 8.5 seconds left in regulation to force the extra session. Clarendon's three-point attempt at the buzzer bounced off the back of the rim.
Georgia played the final 2:20 of regulation and all of overtime without point guard Jasmine James, who finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and five assists before fouling out.
Cal trailed 49-39 with 6:46 left after Barbee hit two free throws. The Bears got back into the game by halftime, overcoming a horrible shooting start, but each run early in the second half was rebuffed by the Lady Bulldogs.
This time Cal had an answer. Jemerigbe hit her first three-pointer after missing her previous six attempts. Clarendon scored four straight points, and Caldwell scored in the paint.
Caldwell then rebounded Jemerigbe's missed free throw and scored to pull Cal even at 50-50.
Tiaria Griffin missed a three for Georgia, and Cal's Brittany Boyd was fouled driving to the rim by James, her fifth foul, leaving Georgia without its floor leader. Boyd hit both free throws, and Cal had its first lead since 17-16.
Not having James on the floor showed immediately as Georgia turned it over on its next two possessions.
NCAA WOMEN'S TOURNAMENT
Cal 65, Georgia 62 (OT)
Connecticut 83, Kentucky 53
Notre Dame vs. Duke, 4 p.m., ESPN
Tennessee vs. Louisville, 6 p.m., ESPN
Cal vs. Tennessee-Louisville winner, Sunday, 2:30 p.m. or 5 p.m., ESPN
Connecticut vs. Notre Dame-Duke winner, Sunday, 2:30 p.m. or 5 p.m., ESPN
April 9, 4:30 p.m., ESPN