March 18, 2007
PITTSBURGH, Pa. - Eighth-seeded California fought back from a nine-point halftime deficit to grab several leads before falling to ninth-seeded Notre Dame, 62-59, Sunday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the Petersen Events Center. The Golden Bears, who made their second consecutive NCAA appearance, end the season at 23-9, while the Fighting Irish improve to 20-11 after beating Cal in the teams' first-ever meeting.
Sophomore forward Ashley Walker, a first-team All-Pac-10 selection, led Cal with 20 points and 13 rebounds for her conference-leading 12th double-double. Walker made 10-of-12 foul shots, including 10-of-10 in the first half, to keep the Bears in the game. Sophomore Pac-10 Player of the Year Devanei Hampton posted 13 points and nine rebounds, highlighted by 11 points and five boards after halftime, but battled through foul trouble, playing only eight minutes in the first half due to three fouls. The center finished the game with three fouls.
Cal's Joanne Boyle, the Pac-10 Coach of the Year, attended Gateway High School in nearby Monroeville, Pa. The Bears earned their fifth overall NCAA Tournament appearance and second under Boyle, while Notre Dame has received 14 selections.
Freshman guard Lauren Greif, who tallied all nine of her points in the second half, converted 1-of-2 free throws to give Cal a 51-50 lead with 6:12 to play. Notre Dame, which held Cal without a field goal for almost seven minutes down the stretch, answered with an 8-0 run to grab a 58-51 lead with 1:37 to play. After Erica Williamson put the Irish up seven with a layup, Greif sank a three-pointer with 1:13 to go to bring Cal to within four.
Cal continued its trademark fight in close contests during the final minute. Junior reserve forward Krista Foster, who played most of the second half, grabbed a defensive rebound and found freshman guard Natasha Vital racing down court for a fast-break layup to cut Notre Dame's edge to 58-56 with 37.7 on the clock.
The Bears sent Notre Dame freshman Melissa Lechlitner to the foul line with 31.8 to go, and she missed the front end of a one-and-one situation to give Cal a chance. Vital fed the ball to Hampton in the low post, but as Hampton made her move to the basket she lost the ball out of bounds with 19 seconds to play.
Tulyah Gaines put Notre Dame up four by hitting two free throws, but with seven seconds remaining, Greif made three free throws after being fouled in the act of shooting a three-pointer to make it a one-point game.
After Lechlitner converted two foul shots with 0.5 seconds to play, Walker threw the ball just past half court to Hampton who caught the ball and missed a desperation three-pointer that would have tied the contest.
Cal fell behind 14-4 with 14:39 left in the first half behind seven of Charel Allen's nine first-half points. Allen, who is from the Pittsburgh area, led Notre Dame with 13 points, while Lechlitner contributed 12 points off the bench. Cal closed to within 16-10 following a rebound and layup by Foster about four minutes later.
The Irish rebuilt their lead to 25-16 at the 6:54 mark, but Walker hit two free throws, and senior Keanna Levy sank a three-pointer to cut the gap to 25-21 with 4:58 to play until halftime. Notre Dame wrapped up the half on a 7-2 spurt to lead 32-23.
Gaines hit a jumper to give Notre Dame its biggest lead of the game at 36-25 in the first minute of the second half, but the momentum quickly swung to Cal, as Walker blocked Allen's shot near the free throw line and took the ball the length of the court for a layup.
Walker's athletic play jumpstarted a 12-4 Cal run which brought the Bears to within 40-37 with 14:09 remaining in the game following a jumper by Greif. Cal shot 50 percent from the floor in the second half after shooting only 22.7 percent in the opening 20 minutes. Notre Dame shot 37.5 percent in the second half after registering a 44.4 percent effort in the first half.
Hampton tied the game at 43-43 with under 11 minutes remaining by hitting 1-of-2 free throws, and Foster made her second three-pointer of the half to give the Bears their first lead of the game at 46-45 with 9:49 to play. Foster contributed eight points and six rebounds off the bench and made a career-best two treys (2-of-2) after making only five career threes before today.
Cal also led 48-46 and 50-48 following jumpers by Hampton, the last coming with 8:03 left on the clock. Neither team led by more than three points until Erwin put her team up four with a layup with under four minutes left.
The Bears, who lead the Pac-10 in free throws attempted per game, sank 70.8 percent of their opportunities (17-of-24), while the Irish, who entered the game at 76.3 percent from the foul line, shot only 62.5 percent (10-of-16). Cal held a 38-35 rebounding edge after the teams each hauled in 18 in the first half. The Bears also finished with only 16 turnovers after having 10 miscues in the first half.