Standout senior guard Erin Rooney was going to get the last shot for Fordham. And California was prepared for just that.
Rooney's contested game-ending shot came up short and Cal, an NCAA Final Four team last season, held on for a 64-63 victory in the first round of the NCAA tournament Saturday.
"It was kind of a clear-out play, a top screen. Everyone else was kind of running through to the other side for an iso," Rooney said. "I didn't get a good look at all."
There were eight ties and nine lead changes in the second half, with the lead going back-and-forth three times in the final 31 seconds in a game with so much focus on two of the most versatile guards in the nation.
Brittany Boyd scored 16 of her 22 points after halftime, including the game-winning basket with 14 seconds left before Fordham (25-8) called timeout to set up the final play. Cal used the time to change what it had been doing the whole game.
"They switched on the screen, and they were typically doubling, so we were anticipating them maybe doubling on that," Fordham coach Stephanie Gaitley said. "Erin had maybe a pull-up early. I think she waited because she was trying for the dribble-penetration. Maybe she waited a little bit too long, and by then maybe some panic sets in and then we just have to get a shot off."
Rooney finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds and five assists for No. 10 seed Fordham, the Atlantic 10 tournament champ playing in its first NCAA tourney in 20 years. The Rams are only six years removed from an 0-29 season but now have consecutive 25-win seasons.
"Those kids in the locker room, obviously there are a lot of sad faces because we were right there to steal it," Gaitley said. "This is something you build off of. We took a Cal team ... right to the wire. I think that shows a lot about where Fordham has come as a program."
Emily Tapio and Samantha Clark each had 15 points for the Rams.
Boyd, who also 10 assists and six rebounds, and Rooney among the three players in the country who entered the NCAA tournament averaging 14 points, six rebounds and five assists a game. And they were constantly around each other on the Ferrell Center court.
"I think she's a great player. I thought the before the game that it was going to be fun. It was a challenge for me," Rooney said. "I think she's more of a defensive player than I am. I kind of took that to heart. She still got her points, but it was just fun playing against her. "
Afure Jemerigbe, along with Boyd a returning starter from Cal's national semifinal loss to Louisville last April, added 13 points. Reshanda Gray had 10 points and eight rebounds for the Golden Bears (22-9).
Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb, whose 79 wins in her first three seasons are the most by any Cal coach in a three-year span, grew up 25 miles north of Fordham. She watched the Rams play and even went to camps on the Bronx campus as a kid. Any other time, she would have been pulling for the Rams.
Cal, which trailed by as many as seven points before halftime, got even at 39 about 3 minutes into the second half when Boyd stole the ball from Rooney.
Boyd, who was only one of eight shooting before halftime, drove for a layup and was fouled by Rooney, whose left foot slipped awkwardly while trying to make a defensive stop. Rooney left the game only momentarily and Boyd made the free throw to make it 39-all.
After the Golden Bears came up on empty on a possession when they had six shots with about 6 minutes left, Rooney made a 3-pointer over Boyd to put the Rams up 54-52. The game was quickly tied when Jemerigbe had a putback on Boyd's missed 3-pointer.
But Boyd made the biggest shot.
"The little runner at the end, that's something we practice. It wasn't something that we made up," she said. "They ran a ball screen for me. I seen I had the runner, so I shot it. Fortunately, it went in off the glass. I didn't call glass. It went in and we had to lock down for that next 14 seconds."