The Bears hit their free throws when it counted, including their first 11 attempts in overtime, to pull out the most exciting home game of the season.
Walker also pulled down 11 rebounds to notch her tenth double-double of the year. Devanei Hampton added 25 points and 8 boards, and Natasha Vital had a double-double of her own with 15 points and a career-high 10 assists. Keanna Levy tallied 11 points, including two momentum-changing three-pointers.
Cal and USC entered the game tied for third place in the Pac-10, and USC needed the win to keep their NCAA Tournament chances alive, while the Bears needed to finish the season strong to improve their seeding.
"To me, this was March Madness basketball," said Cal head coach Joanne Boyle. "Just a competitive game by both teams. USC is a great team, and I think they deserve to be in the Tournament, I really do. We played tournament basketball tonight."
"Cal is awful tough with those two kids, Walker and Hampton," said Southern Cal head coach Mark Trakh. "They are monsters. It's tough defending them because they are just so strong. They're just strong and they get to the rim, and man, they're good."
Indeed, Hampton and Walker combined for Cal's first 12 points. But Jamie Hagiya was on fire to start the game, scoring 11 of the Trojans' first 13 points, including three treys.
Bears countered with their inside game. Natasha Vital broke the USC press and found Hampton for Cal's first points. She later drove to the hoop and dumped off to Walker, who hit the lay-up and the ensuing foul shot. Vital also looked for her own offense, scoring 10 points in the first half.
|AP Photo/Dino Vournas
Devanei Hampton, Emmelie Geraedts
"I knew that they were going to focus more on our post players," said Vital. "So I was just looking to be more aggressive on the offensive end."
Shay Murphy scored on a drive to pull USC ahead 22-15. Ashley Walker hit four free throws and a lay-up, and Vital hit a fast break lay-in after a steal to pull the Bears to 26-25. When Keanna ran the baseline and hit a three, the Bears had their first lead at 28-26.
When Hampton and then Walker each picked up their second foul and left the game, the Trojans took advantage. Allison Jaskowiak spotted up for her second three of the game to give USC a 36-31 lead. Between Jaskowiak and Hagiya, the Trojans hit 6 of 10 three-point attempts in the first half. With not much luck inside, Vital tossed in another bomb, and Greif then hit one of two free throws. Vital's half-court attempt at the buzzer rimmed out, and the Bears trailed at the break 36-35. Vital had 10, and Walker led the Bears with 14 in the first half.
Cal and USC traded the lead for the first few minutes of the second half, with neither team making any kind of run.
With 15:42 left, Walker drove the lane and caused the fourth foul on Nadia Parker. For the game, the Trojans committed 27 fouls to the Bears' 16, which led to a 37 to 22 advantage in free-throw attempts for Cal.
"The pat answer for that is that I have is no comment on the officiating," said head coach Mark Trakh. "I don't make enough money to have a comment on the officiating."
|AP Photo/Dino Vournas
The Bears could not take advantage, as USC's length and athleticism continued to stymie Cal. The Bear offense bogged down, with many possessions ending in a hurried shot with the shot clock dwindling into single digits.
On defense, the Bears made the adjustment to keep tabs on Hagiya in the second half, but that freed up Murphy, who was 3 of 4 from three-point land. At just under 5 minutes left, Lauren Greif gambled unsuccessfully for a steal but instead left Murphy wide open for a jumper and USC had its largest lead, 64-56.
Two free throws by Hampton narrowed the gap, and then the Bears showed some maturity by working their offense patiently until Vital found Keanna Levy in the corner for a three-pointer.
Two minutes later, Vital found Levy again, who calmly sank another three to tie the game. With two minutes left, the game started over at 66-all.
Murphy hit one of two free throws, and Walker responded with a strong drive along the baseline to retake the lead, 68-67. With under a minute to play, Chloe Kerr, playing with 4 fouls, drove at Hampton and knocked her over, hitting the basket en route. Instead of Kerr being whistled for her fifth, it was Hampton who picked up her fourth. Kerr completed the three-point play, and USC was up 70-68.
|AP Photo/Dino Vournas
At the other end, Walker bobbled a pass, but collected herself to drive again to the basket to tie the game, 70-70.
With 28 seconds remaining, USC called a time-out and set up their offense. Hagiya, who had gone cold from distance in the second half, drove to the basket. Walker went for the block but instead picked up her fourth foul. Hagiya, a senior, calmly sank her two free throws. USC 72-20.
Cal again fed the ball to Walker, and Jamie Funn fouled her before she could make her move. But Cal was in the double bonus by then, and Walker dropped in two free throws to tie the game.
"I shot free-throws last night in the gym after practice," said Walker. "So I said to myself, I'm not going to miss these two free-throws after shooting for an hour. So I just stepped up, blanked out all noise, and hit them."
In overtime, Cal ran away from the Trojans by being aggressive.
"I just told them to take it to the basket," said Boyle.
The Bears hit their free throws - 17 in a row in a stretch that extended from the end of the second half into overtime. The Trojans, on the other hand, went cold, making only 2 of 10 shots in the extra frame.
"Maybe it was the fact that we could have won the game with one last stop," said Trakh. "And they got the momentum in overtime, maybe because psychologically we felt that we could have won with that last stop."
Ultimately, Boyle believed that the Bears won the game because of their mental toughness.
"They have so much fight in them," said Boyle. "The toughness that they showed… we were a Tournament basketball team tonight. You want to determine your own destiny. You don't want to leave it in someone else's hands. That's what so great about this team in particular - they're so young, yet they're determining their own destiny. You can't ask any more than that."
NOTES and QUOTES:
- After being ranked all season, Cal fell into the "receiving votes" category
this week after their loss at Oregon.
- Shay Murphy played only 9 minutes in the first half.
- The loss seriously damaged USC's chances of making the NCAA Tournament. "We
either have to beat Stanford and get one in the [Pac-10] Tournament, or we
have to get two in the Pac-10 Tournament," said coach Trakh.
- It was the Bears' second consecutive overtime game and the fourth
of the season, the most in school history. "We've been in this
situation before in overtimes this year and we've come up short," said
Boyle. "And they knew coming in what that five minutes is like. Our
kids just came in and said, 'We're not tired. We're doing this. We're not tired.' And they carried it. They did an
unbelievable job of not letting someone come in and take a game from us."
- As has been often in the post-game conferences this season, because of
the Bears' short bench, the subject of conditioning and fatigue
came up. "In the huddle, Coach said, 'Who ran with Coach Dixon
this summer?' Well, actually, it wasn't me," said Hampton
who was injured over the summer, "but they all did. And our conditioning,
we just out-hustle everybody. We've been playing a lot of minutes,
and we're just ready for this."
- Hagiya agreed. "They are in great shape. Those kids play so many
minutes, and they did a great job."
- Boyle on the difference between good and great: "We don't want
to be a good team," said Boyle. "When it's all said and
done, we want to be great. Great teams finish out the season. We want to
finish strong and be 'the talk' going into the Tournament."
- With the win, the Bears have clinched the third seed in next weekend's
- Cal will close out their regular season on Saturday. The Bears will look to avenge their overtime loss to UCLA earlier in the season.
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