Gennifer Brandon knew this was the time. This was the time Cal's women's basketball team could either undo the benchmark win it registered over Stanford last weekend, or prove the Bears should continue to belong among the nation's elite.
Trailing 62-56 with 1:42 left in regulation, Brandon's mindset changed. And because of that, so did the game.
Brandon had eight points, seven rebounds and added a steal and a block down the stretch, and the No. 7 Bears came back to notch a 71-63 victory over USC in overtime on Thursday night.
"I was basically in a daze," said Brandon, who tied Colleen Galloway's school record with 26 rebounds and scored 23 points. "One of our sayings when someone tries to come in to our house is 'Not today.' I just kept saying, 'not today'."
With the Bears (13-2, 4-1 Pac-12) struggling to find a rhythm in the first half, Brandon gave Cal a jolt of energy just before halftime. She stole a ball right out of a USC player's hands, hauled in an offensive rebound then stepped back for a jumper, and forced a jump ball on defense. That helped the Bears establish a 36-31 halftime lead.
But the Trojans, who entered the game atop the Pac-12 standings at 4-0, held their own in the second half. And when Ariya Crook drained a fallaway 3-pointer as the shot clock expired, it gave USC a 58-53 advantage with 2:44 remaining.
It was the last field goal USC would score on the night.
Four free throws helped the Trojans take the 62-56 lead, but that's when Brandon exerted her will. She made two free throws. She came up with a steal, was fouled, and made two more free throws. And when Layshia Clarendon missed a jumper on Cal's final possession of regulation, there was Brandon to put back the miss and tie the game at 62-62 with 14.7 seconds left.
Neither team scored in the overtime period until Brandon grabbed a rebound and fed Brittany Boyd for a coast-to-coast layup. Brandon then registered another offensive rebound and stuck a jumper to give the Bears a 68-63 lead with 40 seconds left in the extra session.
The Trojans scored just a single point in overtime and Cal wrapped up the win.
"We all know Gen has some unfathomable leaping and rebounding talents," Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. "But there are times when she is in a zone. This is one of them where you feel like if the ball is anywhere in the vicinity, she is going to get it and she's going to finish."
Gottlieb believes her team is built in such a way it can win in a variety of ways. Thursday, the Bears were forced to do so with defense. Cal held USC to 34 percent shooting, and was essentially a wall down the stretch.
"I thought feel of the game started to shift midway through the second half," Gottlieb said. "We couldn't quickly take the lead. We had to chip away. They're good. But our defensive intensity never wanted. We want to make more shots. We have to be better with that. We have to figure out what we need to do. But there's no question our defensive intensity and speed and rebounding is pretty unreal if we play at that level."