California (28-2) won its 16th-consecutive game and set a school record for victories with a 78-59 win over USC (11-20) in the quarterfinals of the Pacific-12 women’s basketball championship Friday at Seattle.
“We were terrific on the boards and aggressive on offense despite USC trying to slow us down inside,” Cal coach and Pac-12 Coach of the Year Lindsay Gottlieb said after her team had a 53-34 rebounding edge.
Gennifer Brandon scored 17 and grabbed 16 boards, Brittany Boyd and Afure Jemerigbe each scored 15, and Talia Caldwell had 12 points and nine rebounds, as the 28 wins surpassed the 27 Cal collected in both 2008 and 2009.
“I knew they were going to try to box me out,” Brandon said, “so I just tried to slither may way out and get the rebound any way I could.”
The Golden Bears clawed their way to an 11-0 lead before USC’s leading scorer Cassie Harberts scored four and a half minutes after the opening tip. Looking every bit the No.6 team in the nation and No. 2 seed in the competition, Cal increased its lead to 19, until Trojan freshman Deanna Calhoun scored in the paint to become the first USC player other than Harberts to score. Harberts, who had the first six, recorded 10 points in the half, after she struggled in the first half of her opening round game against Oregon State and finished with 24. The Golden Bears led at the break, 37-22.
Cal kept an advantage of around 20 points throughout the second half and ended up outscoring the Women of Troy in second-chance points 25-7.
“They put us on our heels early and we were not able to recover,” USC coach Michael Cooper said. “They were committed to showing us they were the tougher team.”
Christina Marinacci scored 10 points, with seven rebounds and a career-high four blocks in the senior’s final game for USC, and Ariya Crook added 10 points, as well.
“I don’t regret it one bit,” Marinacci, who wants to go into broadcasting, said of her career. “Looking back as a senior in high school, I’ve had such a great experience playing with Coach Cooper. I’ve been playing with Cassie since high school club. We weren’t that successful in basketball, but I learned a lot.”
USC did hold Pac-12 Scholar Player of the Year Layshia Clarendon, who averages a team-high 16 points, to seven, snapping her run of double-digit performances at 16 games.
This will be the seventh-consecutive year, Cal advanced to the semifinals. Last season, it lost in the final to Stanford by 15.
During its current run, the Golden Bears were pushed to overtime just once, Jan.17 at home to the Trojans. USC won the only prior matchup between the two in the tournament, in the 2009 semifinals, 69-67.
“I’m just glad we can keep doing what we’ve been doing, it can only go up from here,” said Boyd, who added nine rebounds.
USC, which has been to 15 NCAA tournaments, hasn’t qualified for the Big Dance since 2006, and the No. 7 seed it held this year equaled its lowest in 2003.