"Washington State earned every bit of that win," Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said after the seventh-seeded Cougars knocked off the second-seeded, 20th-ranked Bears 91-83 in a Friday night quarterfinal.
"They coached better," Gottlieb said. "They played better. They shot the ball better. They played better defense. They rebounded better.
"And," Gottlieb stressed, "that's not because we weren't trying. I thought they came out and did an outstanding job. They're a really good basketball team and they played like it today."
The Cougars (17-15) improved to 4-5 against Top 25 teams. A win Saturday night in the semifinals (8:30, Pac-12 Networks) would push WSU into the tournament championship for the first time in school history (Sunday at 6 p.m., ESPN) and quite possibly earn the Cougars serious consideration for their first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1991.
WSU's opponent Saturday will be No. 3 seed Oregon State (22-9). The Beavers advanced Friday by winning their 10th-straight game, downing Utah 50-35. The Cougars are 0-2 against OSU this season. Top-seeded, fourth-ranked Stanford (29-2) plays No. 5 seed USC (20-12) in the other semifinal at 6.
"Another step – survive and advance," WSU coach June Daugherty said. "So we look forward to whoever we play tomorrow."
The Cougars were 0-10 all-time in the conference tournament before going 5-2 the past three years. WSU is making its second appearance in the semifinals in three years.
"It shows how far this program has come since I've come here," senior forward-guard Sage Romberg said.
One night after scoring a tournament-record 107 points in their opener against Oregon, the Cougars engaged in another wide-open, crowd-pleasing contest. The 91 points rank fourth in tournament history.
"It seemed like the basket was really big for them," hustling Cal forward Afure Jemerigbe said.
"I give props to Washington State," Bears star Reshanda Gray said. "They came out and played a really good game, and I wish them the best."
Sophomore guard Lia Galdeira led the Cougars, playing inspired basketball while piling up game highs of 27 points and three steals. Galdeira is tied for third in tournament history with 59 points after just two games; the record is 71. She broke the record of 56 points in two consecutive games, set by Stanford's Nicole Powell.
"Galdeira was just like, ‘I'm not going to let anybody stop me,'" Jemerigbe said.
Guard Tia Presley tacked on 19 points and a team-high seven rebounds for the Cougars. Romberg was good for 16 points; and Mariah Cooks sparked an impressive performance for WSU's bench by producing 12 points and five rebounds in 17 minutes.
"They really exploited us with their face-up ‘4' players, Romberg and Cooks," Gottlieb said, "and their guards were terrific and they shot the ball well. I think that was the story more than anything else."
Well, that and the fact the Cougars were still steaming about a late call last week in Berkeley that helped the Bears force overtime before downing WSU.
"We left Haas Pavilion with a bad taste in our mouth from that," Daugherty said. "We felt like we let it get away. Unfinished business.
"That is something that fueled these guys the past week or so getting ready for the tournament. We wanted the second chance at it today, and we took advantage of it."
Gray, who smoked the Cougars for career highs of 43 points and 16 rebounds last week, dealt with foul trouble and finished with 26 points and six rebounds. Cal's other all-conference player, point guard Brittany Boyd, fouled out with 5 minutes, 48 seconds left and her team trailing by 11. Boyd had nine points and four assists.
"Boyd is one of the best players in the country," Gottlieb said.
The Bears, who had defeated WSU in five straight games and 16 of the previous 18 meetings, might have been blown out if not for a timely effort by one of the best players in the country from a year ago.
Gennifer Brandon, a senior post who has had a troubled family life, missed a good chunk of the season for undisclosed personal reasons. The 2012-13 honorable mention All-American scored a season-high 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 24 minutes off the bench.
"We didn't get frustrated with the tremendous quality of play that their inside game brings with Gray and Brandon and on and on and on," Daugherty said. "We tried to weather the storm, so to speak."
The Cougars led 45-44 after a thrilling first half that featured nine ties and six lead changes. WSU gradually built a 15-point lead in the second half before California pulled within six, only to have Presley insert the dagger by nailing a 3-pointer with 1:24 to go.
"That was a total adrenalin rush for everybody," Daugherty said. "The bench exploded."
So did the crowd, a crimson-tinted bunch that totaled perhaps 3,000.
"Our fans were great," Romberg said.
So were the Cougars.
June Daugherty: 'The bench exploded'
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