Playing short-handed finally caught up with LSU as California ran away in the second half, bringing to a close a surprising late-season surge by the Lady Tigers.
Layshia Clarendon scored 19 points to lead California a 73-63 victory over LSU on Saturday night, sending the Bears to the regional finals for the first time in program history.
Gennifer Brandon had 17 points and 13 rebounds, and Brittany Boyd added 14 points for second-seeded Cal (31-3), which will play Georgia in the Spokane Regional final Monday night.
"It stings a little bit. You want to continue on," LSU guard Adrienne Webb said. "You don't really want to think about the odds of, 'OK, what happens when my season comes to an end?' Unfortunately, mine has come short."
Theresa Plaisance had 15 points and 12 rebounds for sixth-seeded LSU (22-12), and Webb also scored 15. The Lady Tigers were in the game until a scoring drought late in the second half ended their chances. They were seeking their first berth in the round of eight since 2008.
"Our intensity might have slacked up a little bit. We came out a little flat and fought our way back, but I mean, we were putting them to the line and they were knocking down free throws," Webb said. "And I really think that we fought hard at times, but it was like we flipped on and off. We came up, we turned our intensity all the way up and then we took off some possessions."
LSU got the services of guard Jeanne Kenney back after she missed the Lady Tigers' second round win over Penn State with a concussion. Kenney was cleared after shootaround to play and ended up with playing 26 minutes before fouling out. She finished 2 of 9 shooting for six points and four assists.
"We got leadership," LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. "Jeanne is one of those players, her stat line doesn't show a lot of points, she doesn't get a whole lot of rebounds, but her leadership is always there."
Kenney also provided another body for Caldwell to use. The Tigers got to the regional semifinals by knocking off Penn State with just seven healthy players. Kenney provided depth, but even that was tested in the second half as California pushed the pace and started to pull away.
Tied at 26 at halftime, the Golden Bears opened the second half on an 8-2 run to take a 34-28 lead. But Adrienne Webb, Shanece McKinney and Bianca Lutley scored consecutive baskets for LSU to tie the score at 34.
That was the final surge the Lady Tigers would make. Mikayla Miles hit a 3-pointer to cap a 9-2 run that gave Cal a 46-40 lead. Brandon sank two free throws and a scored inside as the Bears took a 54-45 advantage, their biggest lead to that point, with 7:44 left. Boyd's 3-pointer pushed Cal's lead to 58-46 with 5:20 left.
LSU, meanwhile, went more than five minutes without a field goal and fell behind 62-46. Webb finally broke LSU's field goal drought with 2:28 left in the game, but by then the Lady Tigers trailed 64-49. California then scored its final 11 points at the free-throw line.
"I'm kind of in awe of this whole thing. I'm so excited for this whole team to be going to the Elite Eight," Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. "I can't say enough about how tough LSU is and how gritty and how remarkable a run they've had."
LSU wasn't helped by its struggles from the perimeter. The Lady Tigers missed their first eight 3-point attempts in the second half, only to hit the final one — their only 3 of the game. Plaisance and Kenney fouled out in the closing minutes. LSU lacked the depth to match the physical interior play and key outside shooting from the Golden Bears.
LSU shot nearly 39 percent, but committed 16 turnovers and missed a number of inside shots near the basket in the second half.
"But those missed shots, those missed gimmies, there was quite a few of them that we missed," Caldwell said. "And our team needed to think, 'and one.' And so when you're thinking that way, you're not worrying about whether or not you get the call or not. I thought we missed a lot of those gimmies."