With the win, the Bears finished 10-8 (18-10 overall) in the Pac-10, which placed them in 6th place. The Huskies dropped into fourth place at 11-7 (18-9 overall).
Four Bears finished in double figures, with Jene Morris and Ashley Walker tying for game-high honors with 19 points apiece. Alexis Gray-Lawson had 17, and Devanei Hampton contributed 16 points and a game-high 8 rebounds. Senior Renee Wright, possibly playing her final game at Haas, chipped in 8 points, 6 boards, and tying her career high with 6 assists.
"A great win, a great win for us," said Cal head coach Joanne Boyle. "I told these guys how proud I am. Our backs have been against the wall all year. We've been riding a rollercoaster. It was a must win for us today. Not that we ever talked about that, but they knew in the back of their minds what was at stake, and they rallied for Renee, being her Senior Night, and our last night here at Haas in the regular season and the chance to go to the Tournament. They put everything out there, and it showed."
It was a tough night, said Washington head coach June Daugherty. I thought we battled back. That second half, we got it down to five. It looked like we got the stops we needed, and to their credit, Cal really stepped up and really got some runs going.
At the beginning of the game, Washington, or more specifically, forward Andrea Plouffe, burned the Bears from the outside. Plouffe hit 2 tharee-point shots to give the Huskies a 6-5 lead. Washington can be a streaky team offensively, so it seemed that the Bears might be in for a long afternoon. But that turned out to be the Huskies last lead of the game. Cal built a 12-6 lead with their own long-range bombs one each from Morris and Gray-Lawson. Washington began to turn the ball over against Cals press; the Huskies had nine give-aways (to none for Cal) after the first eight minutes.
Early on, we didnt handle their three-quarter court press as well as we could have, agreed Daugherty. Typically, what wed try to do is get reversal, maybe go over the top to the middle, and attack it right away. When we did that, we got some very easy looks. But when we were hesitant, especially initially when we first saw it, I think it got us back on our heels a little bit.
Our players want to get after it, said Boyle. Weve got a short bench, but when I give them the choice [between pressing or playing quarter-court defense], they chose the press. For us, if we want to get easy baskets, we needed to get them off tips and steals. And when your team buys into something, youve got to go with it.
The Huskies had no answer for Ashley Walker, who led the Bears in the first half with 16 points on 8 of 10 shooting, including 7 in a row. Time and again, she used spin moves to lose her defender and get to the rim.
The last game, I could not make a lay-up, so my goal was just to concentrate, said Walker. And today everything I touched went in, so I got lucky. I told myself I needed to concentrate, to make sure I finish everything, and I did.
Walker also played a big role in the Bears 14-3 run that saw the Bears go from an 18-all tie at 10:05 to a 32-21 lead with 4:19 remaining in the half. Walker scored the last 3 baskets in the run, which also featured two scores by Gray-Lawson, the second of which came and at the end of a sequence where the Bears grabbed three consecutive offensive rebounds. As she lost her footing and was falling to the ground, Gray-Lawson still managed to hit the shot.
In the meantime, Cals defense shut down the Huskies, collapsing and forcing the Huskies to rely on outside shots, which did not fall. The Huskies seemed rattled, committing a couple of shot-clock violations. Cal rode a 22-10 points in the paint advantage to offset the Huskies 3-point shooting (4 of 9) and to grab a 36-27 lead at halftime. The Bears also took care of the ball, committing only 5 turnovers. The Huskies, by contrast, committed 14.
In the second half, the Bears continued to pound the ball inside. After Renee Wright completed a three point play off a putback basket, the Bears had stretched their lead to 14 (41-27) at the 18:30 mark.
The Huskies made the adjustment and began to double Walker and Hampton inside. The officials began to call the game a lot more tightly, and the Huskies rode better free-throw shooting to close the gap to single digits (42-33) at the 15 minute mark. Then Devanei Hampton picked up her fourth foul (an over-the-back call) at 13:03 and had to leave the bench.
Cameo Hicks then hit a tough jumper inside to cut the lead to 7. The Huskies then spread the floor and sent cutters to the basket. Only Gray-Lawsons clutch plays held Washington off. And when Walker also picked up her fourth foul on a silly swat at 10:15, the Bears looked to be in huge trouble. With the Bears playing soft defense inside, the Huskies soon cut the lead down to five (54-49) at 8:35 when Andrea Plouffe found Breanne Watson unattended underneath. Boyle had no choice but to put both Hampton and Walker back into the game.
"The Arizona State game, when Dev had to come out, the wheels fell off for us a little bit, commented Boyle. So today, when she got 4, I wasnt going to keep her out for very long. Then at about eight minutes, I decided we were going to go with both of them, and if one of them fouls out, then I have Krista (Foster) down the stretch, and I'm totally comfortable with that. We changed up. We went to a little bit of zone, and then we got burned on it. Then, we made a little bit of a run and were comfortable going back into man. As a coach, you play the guessing game."
But then a strange thing happened. Instead of the veteran Huskies throwing the expected knockout punch, it was the young foul-plagued Bears who bounced back off the mat. Hampton went strong to the basket for a lay-up. Alexis Gray-Lawson curled around for a pull-up jumper. Renee Wright pulled down a ferocious defensive rebound. The rise in intensity seemed palpable.
Then it was time for the Jene Morris show. Hampton winged an outlet pass to a streaking Morris, resulting in two free-throws. On the next possession, Morris dove to the floor and came out of a scramble with steal. She promptly ran down the court and ran the baseline for a 16-footer jumper. Then Walker drove from the elbow, but instead of going to the rim, found Morris in the corner for an open three. Just like that, the Bears had built their lead to 16 (65-49) and had put the game out of reach. Morris would later hit another 3 on another skip pass from Walker to match her career high of 19 points.
"It just seemed to come to me at the end of the game, said Morris. I wasn't really looking to shoot, but they were leaving me open. I figured I might as well take the shots, and I wasn't missing.
I thought the momentum had swung; it was going our way, said Daugherty. We had stops. We were rebounding. It looked like we had some wind in our sails, but we didnt maintain it for some reason.
But Cal wasnt finished. They grabbed every loose ball and hit every shot. By the time little-used Keanna Levy hit a short jumper, the Bears had run off a 27-7 run, perhaps their most impressive offensive showing of the season. From the 9:45 mark, when Morris missed an off-balance three trying to beat the shot clock, the Bears hit 12 straight shots, and the Bears made an incredible 73.9% from the field in the second half on their way to their best shooting performance (55.9%) in conference play.
It seemed like we didnt have answers at the end, said Daugherty. And they played really well down the stretch, so a lot of credit to them and to their coaches. Theyre a very athletic team. Theyre experienced kids now. When we played them up in Seattle, it was their first Pac-10 game. So I think their experience is really showing now, with playing so many quality minutes and playing 18 [conference] games.
I think weve started being more confident with each other, relying on each other more on offense, said Morris. Were starting to move the ball more, getting other players more open looks, instead of forcing shots on offense. So I think that will help us; other teams wont know what hit them when we have more players scoring."
Boyle was pleased with the performance. I thought we moved the ball, and we had good spacing. I think it was one of our better games. And we had an unbelievable shoot-around today.
When you get a group like this, who are willing to work through their chemistry issues Theyre young, so our chemistry has had to develop all year long, and weve had to go up and down a little bit. But now were maybe peaking at the right time, and you cant peak better than at this time of year.
NOTES and QUOTES:
Senior Night: Renee Wright, the Bears lone senior, was honored in a pre-game ceremony. Before the game, there were a lot of emotions. I was anxious, excited, nervous all those feelings at once, said Wright. But once the game started, the team and coaches did a really good job calming me down. It was probably the best game I could have gone out on, especially at Haas. And were not done yet, so thats even better. I feel really good.Wrights parents, Nondis and Ernie, as well as her grandmother, sister, and niece, were all on hand. Im so proud of her, said Nondis Wright. To stick through all these last four years, with all thats happened. There were many times she could have quit, but she didnt. And to see whats going on now, thats her reward.
I told Coach Boyle that she wasnt going to make me cry, said Ernie Wright. But that was really nice. It really touched me to have everyone here cheering for her.
Turnovers: The Bears finished with only 12 turnovers for the game, their lowest total in the conference season. The season-low was 11, against Marshall. After struggling all season with turnovers, Cal has now won that battle against 4 of their last 6 opponents.
Tired Legs: "We're banged up about as much as we can be, and they don't complain, they dont say anything," said Boyle. "They just do what we do, and they do it well. And we did it exceptionally tonight. I'm so happy for them to just have this day. They were more excited that I gave them two days off, I think, than the win. They deserve it. They deserve to have fresh legs and to have a couple of good practices this week and just take note of us trying to do some damage in the Pac-10."
PAC-10 Tournament: The Bears finished in sixth place and will now face third-place UCLA in the quarterfinals of the Pac-10 Tournament next Saturday, March 4, at 11 a.m., at HP Pavilion in San Jose.
Post-season honors: Devanei Hampton and Alexis Gray-Lawson are the expected front-runners for Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. Joanne Boyle should also be a contender for Coach of the Year.
©Copyright 2006, BearInsider.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.
If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.
Bear Insider staff writers visit the Insider discussion board regularly, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article and Cal Athletics.