March 9, 2008
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- Devanei Hampton ran off the court to a cheering crowd, turned, smiled and waved excitedly before disappearing down the arena tunnel.
This was her day, all right. She almost single handily put California (No. 9 ESPN/USA Today, No. 10 AP) in its first Pac-10 tournament championship.
Hampton swore she'd be ready on the heels of a sub-par performance, and the star center showed up with 19 points and 16 rebounds to lift the second-seeded Golden Bears past Arizona State 65-61 on Sunday and into the conference tournament title game.
"She was so ready to play," said coach Joanne Boyle, who watched Hampton go 1-for-10 at the free-throw line a day earlier. "She came off a tough game yesterday. You see how people play her, with three or four people on her. She was a different player at the free-throw line, which helped our confidence, too."
Just when it looked like another down game on offense for Hampton, she scored six points during an 8-0 spurt to start the second half. Last year's Pac-10 Player of the Year pulled down 13 boards -- seven of those on the offensive end -- in the first half after getting just seven in 34 minutes against Oregon on Saturday.
But Hampton also bounced back with a strong second half on offense after shooting 2-for-14 in the first 20 minutes. Natasha Vital added 14 points and Ashley Walker had 10 points and 10 rebounds for Cal (26-5), which had to hold off a late rally to advance to Monday's title game.
"My post buddy said, 'Just be confident and go up there,' " Hampton said, referring to Walker. "It's just a mental thing."
The Bears will face top-seeded Stanford (No. 7 ESPN/USA Today, No. 6 AP), and lost both meetings with the rival Cardinal during the regular season -- 72-52 and 60-58 -- to finish as runners-up. Stanford beat UCLA 78-45 in Sunday's second semifinal for its 17th straight victory.
Third-seeded Arizona State (21-10) had the momentum heading into halftime but missed its first four shots out of the break and then went 4 1/2 minutes without scoring while the Bears rolled. Dymond Simon led her team with 22 points, Briann January scored 15 before fouling out, and Jill Noe added 11 points, six rebounds and four assists.
Simon's 3-pointer from the left corner with 27.5 seconds left cut Cal's lead to four and she scored again the next time down to make it 64-61.
"I intentionally got more aggressive in the second half. We knew we had to make something happen," Simon said. "We just ran out of time."
The Sun Devils, who had their five-game winning streak snapped, were trying to reach the tournament title game for the second straight year. They won the inaugural 2002 conference tournament, and the event will move to Los Angeles next March after six years in San Jose and one in Eugene, Ore.
Kelsey Adrian's 3 with 10:18 to play put Cal up 51-40 and the Bears led by as many as 16 before the Sun Devils got back in it. Arizona State started the half 3-for-19.
"We struggled to score in the second half," said ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne, still confident about her team's postseason hopes. "They were getting a lot of second chances in the first half and they were finishing their shots a lot better in the second half."
The Sun Devils are still likely to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, which would be the program's fourth straight berth and sixth in eight years. ASU dropped all three meetings with Cal this season.
Noe scored the final six points of the first half for Arizona State, which led 34-33 at the break after shooting 48 percent to Cal's 29 percent. Cal held a 27-14 rebounding advantage in the half and finished up with a 44-34 edge.
The Bears earned a hard-fought 67-60 victory over Oregon on Saturday that was sloppy at times -- and they still aren't quite as sharp as Boyle would like but find ways to win.
"I'm just so proud of my team," she said. "It was one of those hard-fought games you play in March -- and we've had two of them in a row."
Turner Thorne used her usual wave substitution pattern but her post players seemed to run out of gas trying to slow down Hampton, Walker and Co. ASU, which posted its fourth straight 20-win season, didn't grab its first offensive rebound until Lauren Lacey had one at the 7:22 mark of the first half.
"I would put these two with the best in the country," Boyle said of her two standout post players. "What I like most about them is they love a challenge."
Cal held a 12-3 rebounding edge 7 1/2 minutes into the game, seven of those by Hampton.