Jan. 1, 2006
BERKELEY, Calif. - California rang in the New Year with a 73-68 win over USC Sunday afternoon at Haas Pavilion. The Golden Bears improved to 11-3 overall, equaling the 1992-93 Bears for the best start since the 1983-84 team opened with a 12-2 mark. Cal is tied for second in the Pac-10 at 3-1, which is the program's best opening to a Pac-10 season since 1991-92 (4-0).
"I'm so proud of my team and how they're playing right now," said first-year Cal head coach Joanne Boyle. "In some ways, if you look at it, if we could just make a layup and a free throw, we wouldn't be so tight (in games). They're finding ways to win. Down the stretch, they just refuse to lose. As a young team, that's impressive. I'm just so proud of them for that."
With the win, Cal has swept a UCLA-USC series for the first time since the Bears accomplished the feat in Los Angeles in 2000-01. The last time Cal swept UCLA and USC at home occurred in 1992-93. Cal defeated UCLA, 65-58, on Friday.
Freshman guard Alexis Gray-Lawson led Cal with 22 points, and freshman center Devanei Hampton tallied 21 points. Freshman forward/center Ashley Walker notched her first career double-double with 12 points and a career-high 16 rebounds.
USC (8-5, 2-2) extended a 30-29 halftime lead to 38-34 with 17:13 left in the game following Camille Lenoir's fourth of five three-pointers and a layup from Eshaya Murphy. Lenoir led USC with 24 points, and Murphy contributed 16.
The resilient young Bears didn't fade and grabbed the lead for good at 43-41 on a steal and layup from freshman guard Jene Morris with under 14 minutes on the clock. Morris grabbed five steals in the game.
Cal capped a 22-8 run with two free throws from Walker to go ahead 56-46 at the 8:23 mark. Murphy notched eight of her points to bring her team within 58-56 about four minutes later. Hampton came up with two critical baskets, as she also did down the stretch against UCLA Friday, to give Cal a 62-56 edge with 3:02 to play. USC's press helped it get as close as 72-68 with 42 seconds to play.
Nine of Cal's final 11 points came at the foul line, where the Bears hit only 55.3 percent for the game and 50.0 percent in the final two minutes (7-of-14).
"(Free throws) is where our youth is showing," said Boyle. "It's stepping up and understanding that these are free points. We work on them on practice. Kids typically are confident."
USC led by as much as four points in the first half at 7-3, and Cal held an eight-point advantage at 26-18 following two free throws from Gray-Lawson with 7:14 to go until halftime.
Cal shot 35.9 percent for the game, while USC hit 38.1 percent of its attempts (24-63). The Bears' tough defense kept USC launching the majority of its shots from beyond the arc, where they were 10-of-32 (31.3%). Cal nailed 60 percent of its 10 treys, with Gray-Lawson leading the way at 3-of-4.
Behind Walker's monstrous rebounding effort, Cal held a 49-41 advantage on the glass. Reserve Meghan Gnekow led USC with 10 boards.
"In high school, I was more of a rebounding player," said Walker. "I hadn't really had a really good rebounding game yet. That was something that I decided to work on today. I decided to go all out. I went after everything I could get."
Cal also took care of the ball, committing only 14 turnovers to USC's 18.
"We're young, and typically we have one true ballhandler out there in Alexis," said Boyle. "There's a lot of pressure on her. The good thing is that Devanei and Ashley want the ball. They'll flash to it. They'll be big for us. Sometimes, you see Devanei handling the ball a little too much. But, she's not afraid to do it, and you don't see that from a lot of freshmen. We'll get better as time goes on. You just have to be put in situations like this to withstand that kind of pressure."
Cal travels to Oregon Thursday, Jan. 5 and then to Oregon State Saturday, Jan. 7, before crossing the Bay to face Stanford Saturday, Jan. 14.