Jan. 20, 2013
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) - Laysia Clarendon remembers the days when California wasn't much more than an afterthought in the Pac-12.
It was only two years ago.
Now the seventh-ranked Golden Bears are sitting atop the conference standings with a share of first place following their third win over a Top 25 team in the past two weeks.
"It's one of those moments where you sit back and (realize) it's all paid off," said Clarendon after scoring 22 points in Cal's 70-65 win over No. 14 UCLA on Sunday afternoon. "Just to see where we are, I'm grateful and thankful. We've been kind of bringing this program along ... and it means a lot."
It wasn't that long ago when the Bears struggled just to break even in the Pac-12.
But in two years under coach Lindsay Gottlieb, Cal has blossomed into a legitimate contender.
After finishing second to cross-bay rival Stanford in 2012, the Bears are off to their best start since 2008-09 and picking up steam.
"I think this team is hungry to not just be good but be great and be championship caliber," Gottlieb said. "It doesn't get any easier. But I do think it speaks to the fact that we're a legitimate top-level basketball team."
Three days after topping conference-leading USC, the Bears led nearly the entire game but had to hold off a late charge by the Bruins to move atop the Pac-12 standings.
It's the latest milestone for Gottlieb's team. In the past two weeks Cal has beaten No. 21 Colorado and split a pair of games with No. 6 Stanford.
The win over UCLA helped break a four-way tie for first in the Pac-12. Stanford and USC play later Sunday, with the winner joining the Bears in first.
It didn't come easily.
Cal twice blew double-digit leads in the second half and was held without a basket over the final four minutes, allowing the Bruins to make one final push.
Atonye Nyingfa made a short jumper and Markel Walker added a three-point play. Kari Korver followed with her third 3-pointer to bring UCLA within 64-60 with 1:06 left.
After Clarendon stopped the run with two free throws, the Bruins came back and pulled to 68-65 on Korver's layup with seven seconds remaining before Clarendon made two more free throws to seal the game.
"The athleticism and quickness of Cal rattled us early today ... but we recovered," UCLA coach Cori Close said. "We started to force them to shoot the kind of shots that we wanted them to shoot. I liked the fight that we showed."
Clarendon kept the Bruins from coming all the way back.
UCLA was within 54-50 late in the second half when Clarendon made a 3-pointer. She later stole an inbounds pass as part of a 10-2 run then made four free throws in the final 54 seconds.
"I kind of felt at the 10-minute mark we were in a little bit of a lull," Clarendon said. "We just needed a spark. Once we get going, we're off to the races."
Afure Jemerigbe had 10 points and four steals for Cal.
Thea Lemberger scored 15 points for the Bruins (13-4, 4-2). UCLA has lost two straight after winning its previous six.
UCLA led 8-4 early before Cal went on a 20-4 run to move in front for good. Jemerigbe scored five straight points to start the run and Brittany Boyd's layup capped it and put the Bears up 24-12.
Brandon, who matched a school record with 26 rebounds in Cal's overtime win against USC on Thursday, later scored on a putback and Clarendon added a layup to make it 40-33 at the break.
The Bruins never got closer than four points in the second half.
Korver and Alyssia Brewer finished with 13 points apiece for UCLA.