LUBBOCK, Texas - Forget
the missed throws or fouling 3-point shooters. None of that mattered during a
jubilant late night and early morning after the Cal women's basketball team
advanced to the second Sweet Sixteen in school history with an 82-78 victory
over South Florida in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Monday at
Texas Tech University.
The Bears fully know why they allowed the Bulls to come back
to force the extra session Monday night. They've never claimed to be perfect
and have never shied away from working at curing those imperfections.
But the bottom line is the Bears were clearly the better
team Monday, not by a lot but by enough. The Bears outplayed USF in almost
every facet except free throw shooting. Indeed, had Cal not missed eight of 11
free throws down the stretch, it would have won comfortably.
"I said, 'Not one person looks behind'," Cal coach Lindsay
Gottlieb said about her message during the team huddle heading into overtime. "We
don't think, talk about the time that's already lost. We're looking forward.
Not that it was easy, but there was no carryover whatsoever and again that
short memory is important. We all know we made mistakes down the stretch but
what are you going to do? We're going into overtime and I said there's no
option but to win this game."
Once overtime started, it was back to regular basketball
again because South Florida had no reason to send the Bears to the line. And
once Cal regained the lead, this time it made 8 of 10 free throws to seal it.
"It was exciting," said Cal guard Layshia Clarendon, who led
the Bears with 27 points, two short of her career-high. "I think this is what
March is all about. It's one of those games where toward the end, the clock
couldn't tick any slower. It felt like you were in a movie."
When the game finally did end, the Bears engaged in an on-court
celebration that was part-joy, part-relief. But this is where Cal expected to
be. Ranked in the top-10 for almost the entire season, anything short of at
least the Sweet Sixteen would have felt like an unfulfilled season.
The Bears enjoyed the win as much as they could after a
physically draining game that ended after 11 p.m. local time. By the time Cal
completed its media obligations, showered and reached the airport, it was 1
Still, there were a ton of smiles and laughs as the team
headed to the airport. The Southwest Airlines crew guiding the charter flight
back to Oakland congratulated the Bears over the airplane intercom. The plane
touched down in Oakland at 2:10 a.m. local time.
The Bears were ready and deserved a good night's sleep at
that point. They will watch tonight's Penn State-LSU game with great interest,
as the winner will be their next opponent Saturday in Spokane, Washington.
"I'm so proud and excited and happy for the young women in
our locker room that we're going to the Sweet Sixteen," Gottlieb said. "Just
very thankful to be in this position with these young people."