March 23, 2010
The California Golden Bear advanced to the third round of the Women's National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) Wednesday with a 64-54 victory over the Utah Utes. Senior Natasha Vital scored the 1,000th point of her career in the victory. The win sends Cal on the road to Oregon for a game on Thursday, March 25 in Eugene against the Oregon Ducks.
The Bears, who has a six-day layoff since their overtime first round victory over the UC Davis Aggies, showed no signs of rust as they jumped out to a 31-9 first half lead. The Utes, who defeated Saint Mary's on Sunday to advance to play Cal, found their rhythm late in the second half, going on an 11-2 run to pull within 13, 33-20, with 1:20 left in the period. Freshman guard Layshia Clarendon put a halt to the run with a made-jumper and a converted freethrow. The two teams went into the locker room with the Bears holding a 36-23 lead.
In the second half, the Utes cut the lead to single digits, 37-31, opening up the period on an 8-1 run. Freshman forward Gennifer Brandon ended the run with a layup at the 15:30 mark. Freshman forward DeNesha Stallworth got a quick steal to put the momentum back in Cal's favor. But Utah refused to go away, knocking down another Bear double-digit advantage to just three, 43-40, with 9:49 remaining. Cal pushed the lead back up to nine, 53-44 on a banked in shot by Gennifer Brandon with 4:20 left in the game. A three-pointer by senior guard Alexis-Gray-Lawson put the Bears back up double digits, 56-46, with 3:13 to go, giving Cal control of the game. They held on for the victory, improving to 20-13 on the season. The Utes end their 2009-10 campaign at 23-12.
"I am just excited that we are still in the post season," said Cal head coach Joanne Boyle. "There are thirty-some teams still playing and we are one of them. To be able to get two games at home has been good for us. Utah tested us in the second half. I just don't think we came out ready to play in the second half. I think they made some adjustments. I think they did a really good job. I am just proud of my team battling back the last six minutes of the game."
Alexis Gray-Lawson, in her first time back in action after sustaining a strained neck and minor concussion in the Pac-10 Tournament, scored a game-high 18 points. Layshia Clarendon had 13 points with four assists. Freshman center Talia Caldwell scored six points with 11 rebounds.
In the second half, senior guard Natasha Vital became the 21st player in Cal history to reach 1,000 career points. Vital hit a freethrow with 17:38 remaining in the game to move into that elite club.
The victory gives Cal their fourth consecutive twenty-win season. It is the first time in program history that Cal teams have won 20 or more games in back-to-back-to-back-to-back seasons.
The victory also sends Cal into the third round of the WNIT. Cal, one of 16 teams remaining in the single-elimination tournament, will travel to Oregon where they face a quick turnaround, playing their fellow Pac-10 team, the Oregon Ducks, on Thursday, March 25 in Eugene. Tip off will be at 7:00 p.m. Live streaming audio of the game will be available through CalBears.com.