Dec. 22, 2006
LOS ANGELES No. 15 California won a defensive battle with USC to claim a 62-53 decision Friday afternoon at the Galen Center. The Golden Bears improved to 9-2 overall and 1-1 in the Pac-10, while the Women of Troy dropped to 6-6 and 0-2 in the conference.
"Both teams have key players out," said Cal head coach Joanne Boyle, who will miss starting point guard Alexis Gray-Lawson for the remainder of the season due to an ACL injury. "We're both trying to find our way."
On the heels of a series sweep last season, Cal has now won three straight games over USC for the first time since a span covering the 1989-90 and 1990-91 seasons.
Sophomore forward/center Ashley Walker led Cal with 17 points and 13 rebounds for her fourth double-double of the season. Sophomore forward/center Devanei Hampton posted 13 points for the Bears, and freshman forward/center Rama N'diaye added a career-high 11 points in 27 minutes of action off the bench.
Cal held a 28-26 halftime lead and neither team led by more than three points for the majority of the second half. With Cal holding a 48-47 lead at the 5:16 mark, freshman guard Lauren Greif hit her second three-pointer of the half to ignite a 9-0 Bears' run. Freshman guard Natasha Vital made a critical steal and layup during the stretch.
According to Boyle, that three-pointer by Greif was the turning point in the game.
"She wasn't shooting the ball," Boyle said. "They were packing it inside and double teaming Ashley and Devanei. I talked to them about not letting their offense affect their defense. They were trying to do too much. Everyone is looking to them. Finally, we told Lauren that she had to shoot the ball. She hit one and then she hit two. That broke it open and then everyone kind of breathed because our offense didn't have to come from Devanei and Ashley. Then, Tasha got a steal, and Krista's (Foster) energy lifted us at the end of the game. Ashley's free throws were key."
Cal led 57-47 with 2:19 left on the clock, and USC couldn't get any closer than nine points the rest of the game. The Bears mounted their biggest lead of the game at 61-48 following two free throws from Greif, who finished the contest with eight points and six boards.
After USC tallied the first point of the game, Hampton recorded four points and senior guard Keanna Levy added three points to give the Bears a 7-1 edge with 16:19 left in the first half.
Following five straight points from USC's Eshaya Murphy, Cal went on a 10-3 run to grab a 17-9 advantage with 10:44 left until halftime. N'diaye capped the run with four straight points. The Women of Troy responded with a 14-0 spurt to go ahead 22-17 at the six-minute mark.
After Cal called a 30-second timeout, Walker led a spirited effort from the Bears with six consecutive points to spur an eight-point run, lifting her team to a 25-22 advantage. Walker tallied eight of her game-high nine first-half points over the final 5:24 to send her team into the locker room ahead, 28-26.
Cal shot 40.9 percent from the floor, but held USC to an opponent season low of 29.7 percent. Walker converted 11-of-12 free throws to help the Bears win the game at the charity stripe. As a team, Cal hit 22 of its 31 foul shots (71.0 percent).
Murphy paced the Women of Troy with 17 points, and Chloe Kerr tallied 10 points.
"We knew we had to at least at minimum split on the road," Boyle said. "We're going home for Christmas, and now we come back with some confidence playing the Arizona schools."
Cal begins a four-game homestand against No. 10 Arizona State Thursday, Dec. 28, at 7 p.m.