NCAA Round 2: Cal Heads to First Sweet 16
Cal celebrates first-ever advance to Sweet 16
Cal celebrates first-ever advance to Sweet 16
Posted Mar 26, 2009

Cal packed a 1-2-3 punch in the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Tournament, advancing to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in the history of the program by defeating ACC power Virginia, 99-73, in the second round on Monday.

Senior forward Ashley Walker tied her career high with 32 points – 20 of which ripped the nets in the first half, while senior forward/center Devanei Hampton put up 22 points and pulled down 11 rebounds. Junior guard Alexis Gray-Lawson added 22 points of her own.

“We got one of our goals – we’re very excited,” Walker said.

The Bears, who had been energetic in warm-ups and the pre-game huddle, and smiled all the way through the post-game press conference, said they were ready for the game.

“The energy was incredible in our locker room at halftime,” Gray-Lawson said. “I don’t know how to explain it –-“

“It’s tournament time!” Walker interjected.

“We don’t want to go home,” Gray-Lawson added.

Walker and Hampton got the Bears off to a blazing start from tipoff, each knocking down two of their team’s four buckets in the first two minutes of play. Walker, in particular, continued to dazzle with a variety of moves, from spins and dips under the basket to jumpers.

Gray-Lawson then got into the act, not only putting up points but executing two stunning side-pass assists and blocking a shot. The Bears had opened up a 32-22 lead with 6:02 left in the first period.

Virginia began the game in a zone defense, but switched to man midway through the first half. Coach Debbie Ryan conceded the obvious -- none of it worked.

“They came out swinging and we were taking punches and not swinging back,” Ryan said. “Their high-low game was really good to start the game and we just had no answer for it. We went zone, we went man, we tried different players. There’s no excuse. They just flat-out beat us in every aspect of the game.”

Cavalier guard Monica Wright gave it her best try, though. The junior poured in 14 of her team-high 26 points during the first seven minutes of the second half, and helped her team cut Cal’s lead to 11 at the 11:38 mark.

But the Walker-Hampton-Gray-Lawson combination went to work again, rebuilding Cal’s lead to 89-66 with just over four minutes left on the clock.

Cal's Alexis Gray-Lawson looks to pass as Virginia forward Chelsea Shine defends.
California guard Alexis Gray-Lawson looks for an outlet as Virginia forward Chelsea Shine defends in the first half of an NCAA second-round women's basketball tournament game in Los Angeles Monday, March 23, 2009. Cal won, 99-73, to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time ever.

Wright fouled out with 2:23 left in the game and the handwriting already on the wall."

“We didn’t do our best job on the defensive end,” Wright said afterwards. “As a team, we are disappointed in our own performances.”

“It was fun to watch,” said Cal Coach Joanne Boyle of her team's performance. “I knew this was in my team – I knew it was there. The emphasis this week was sharing the basketball. Understanding that it has to come from all of them really showed in these two games here.”

Cal has never made it past the second round of the NCAA playoffs. Their 99-point total Monday night was their highest of the season, and the victory was their 27th, which equals their number of victories last year. Walker has scored 20 points in five out of her team’s last six NCAA appearances.

How much farther the Bears will go remains doubtful. Cal (27-6, 6-15 in PAC-10 play) had the misfortune of drawing the fourth seed in the Trenton Regional bracket. That means they will face the University of Connecticut in Trenton, New Jersey, on Sunday.

Connecticut, the number one team in the nation and the top seed in the tournament, is unbeaten this season. The Huskies have defeated their opponents by an average of more than 30 points per game.

Connecticut's greatest strength is in the play of their guards, led by floor general Renee Montgomery, and at the wing, in small forward Maya Moore, both All-Americans. Few would doubt the talents of their 6-4 junior center, Tina Charles, but if the Huskies have a weakness, it may be their lack of depth in the post.

That, of course, is Cal's strong suit in the forward/center Hampton (6-3) and Walker (6-1). The odds of an upset may be long, but so is the reach of these twin towers.

Cal's Ashley Walker shoots over Virginia's Ariana Moorer.
California forward/center Ashley Walker (44) drains two of her career-high 32 points over Virginia guard Ariana Moorer in the first half of a second-round women's NCAA college basketball tournament game in Los Angeles Monday, March 23, 2009. Cal won 99-73. Walker and teammate Devanei Hampton's strong presence in the post may be their best hope in the upcoming regional against No. 1 Connecticut.

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