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SPOKANE, Wash. – Layshia Clarendon was the first to get her hands on the regional championship trophy. Rightfully so, after getting California somewhere they've never gone before: the Final Four.
Clarendon scored 17 of her 25 points in the second half and overtime, and California rallied from down 10 with less than 7 minutes left to beat Georgia 65-62 in the Spokane Regional final and advance to the Final Four for the first time in school history.
Clarendon and the second-seeded Golden Bears became the first team from the western U.S. other than Stanford to reach the Final Four since Long Beach State in 1988. They did it with a gritty rally down the stretch and big shots by Clarendon, Afure Jemerigbe and Talia Caldwell.
During that 25-year span, eight different programs in the West have reached the regional finals. But whether it was Long Beach State, Washington, USC, UCLA, Colorado, Utah, Arizona State or Gonzaga, they all came up one game short — sometimes at the hands of Stanford — from getting to the Final Four.
California, and second-year coach Lindsay Gottlieb, finally broke the string. Gottlieb threw her arms in the air when Shacobia Barbee's desperation half-court shot at the buzzer bounced off the backboard and wore a huge grin throughout the postgame celebration.
Jemerigbe finished with 14 and Caldwell added 10, with six coming in the final 3:30 of regulation and in overtime.
California (32-3) was the selection of President Obama when he filled out his NCAA women's tournament bracket. The Golden Bears proved him right.
Barbee led Georgia (28-7) with 14 points, but the Lady Bulldogs struggled down the stretch as California chipped away at the lead. It was just the third time this season Georgia lost after leading at halftime.
Georgia managed to force overtime despite going the final 7:45 of regulation with just one field goal. That came when Anne Marie Armstrong twice came up with offensive rebounds and scored underneath with 8.5 seconds left in regulation to force the extra session. Clarendon's 3-point attempt at the buzzer bounced off the back of the rim.
Georgia played the final 2:20 of regulation and all of overtime without point guard Jasmine James after she fouled out picking up two quick fouls in less than 40 seconds.
James finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and five assists before fouling out.