Feb. 27, 2009
LOS ANGELES (AP) -Camille Lenoir was setting up to take a possible game-winning shot with less than 15 seconds on the clock. When she got the ball, Nadia Parker was wide open and Lenoir shoveled the ball to her teammate.
The pass, a smidgen off, left Southern Cal without an attempt and another close loss.
Junior Alexis Gray-Lawson scored 22 points and hit two key free throws with 15 seconds left, helping No. 4 California defeat USC 66-64 on Friday night and keep the Golden Bears atop the Pac-10 standings. Cal shares the top spot with No. 3 Stanford, which held off UCLA 69-58 on Friday.
"It was there," said LeNoir, who finished with 12 points. "I spun and went sideline and just saw Nadia wide open and just threw the pass. I thought it was perfect." Not perfect enough.
USC has lost eight straight against Cal, including a 73-71 letdown earlier this season. Five of Southern Cal's games have been decided by three points or less this season, not to mention an overtime loss to No. 8 Duke by eight.
The last three matchups between Cal and USC have been decided by five points or less.
"We're close. We're darn close," USC coach Mark Trakh said. "Cal's good at winning games at the end like that."
USC hit 3-pointers to get close, one at 2:04 by Lenoir to make it 61-59 and another with 1:10 remaining by Heather Oliver to make it 63-62.
But Gray-Lawson was too much.
The junior guard carried Cal (23-3, 14-1) on an off night for leading scorer senior forward Ashley Walker, who came in averaging 20.3 points but was 1-for-10 from the field and didn't score her first field goal until there was 4:05 left in the game.
The senior finished with 12 points for Cal, which has won 15 of its last 16.
"My coach told me it was an ugly double-double," said Walker, who also had 13 rebounds. "I had good looks but they kept rimming out. I was not getting any love."
USC kept changing the defense on Walker and even double- and triple-teamed her. That worked, but keeping her off the line didn't. Ten of Walker's points came from the charity stripe for Cal, which has only lost one game on the road this season.
"We're road warriors," Cal coach Joanne Boyle said. "We're older and more experienced, and we know how to grind it out. Our players know what is at stake."
What's at stake is a Pac-10 title and seeding in the NCAA Tournament. And the Bears look like they're on their way.
"Our team is gelling and playing as well as we have all season," Gray-Lawson said. "It's definitely not out of the question."
The Golden Bears took an 11-point lead, their biggest of the game, when Natasha Vital hit a 3-pointer with 13:33 left. USC (14-12, 8-7) rallied back and Oliver's 3-pointer with 1:10 remaining made it 63-62 before Gray-Lawson helped Cal hold on.
"I wasn't nervous taking the free throws at the end of the game. It felt like practice. I was cool, calm and collected," Gray-Lawson said.
Hailey Dunham came off the bench to score 10 and Parker added 13 for USC, which faces Stanford on Sunday.
USC couldn't build off a 27-26 halftime lead, even though CALIFORNIA committed a season-high 27 turnovers.
"We got tired and lackadaisical in the pace of our passes," Boyle said. "It seems like every year when we play USC it comes down to the final minute."
Vital helped Cal come back from the one-point halftime deficit by scoring 10 points in a five-minute stretch. She hit two 3-pointers, including the one that gave the Golden Bears their biggest lead, and a jumper during that span.
Vital finished with 14 points.
Cal led by nine with 7:36 left in the first half, mostly behind 3s from Gray-Lawson. Gray-Lawson went 6-for-6 to start the game, scoring 15 of Cal's first 18 points.
Parker sparked a 13-2 run for Southern Cal late in the half with a layup, and LeNoir and Oliver each hit 3-pointers down the stretch.
Dunham scored eight of her points in the first half, and a turnaround jumper with 13 seconds remaining gave USC its halftime advantage.
Gray-Lawson surpassed her scoring average of 12.3 points when she hit a 3 with 12:27 left in the first half, giving Cal a 15-10 lead.
The Bears will head across town to Westwood to take on the UCLA Bruins Sunday, Mar. 1 at 12:00 p.m. The game will be televised on Fox Sports Net.