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Published September 14, 2015
Georgia's already surprising run in the NCAA tournament was 7 minutes away from adding one more stop: New Orleans.
The Lady Bulldogs simply couldn't hold off yet another run by California in the closing minutes of regulation and in overtime.
"I don't think the words can even explain right now. Disappointed, hurt," Georgia guard Jasmine James said. "To have something that you've always wanted to be able to do, just be so close, and to end up getting outworked for it, it hurts."
Layshia 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 national semifinals 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 — of advancing.
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.
"This is still better than my wildest dreams," Gottlieb said.
The loss ended Georgia coach Andy Landers' hope of reaching the Final Four for the first time since 1999. Georgia last reached the regional finals in 2004 and this was the Lady Bulldogs 11th trip to the regional finals.
And it nearly became Landers' sixth Final Four.
"They made more plays than we did and they deserve to win the game," Landers said. "I'm disappointed, but I'm proud of our basketball team and the run that we have made.
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 James after she fouled out picking up two quick fouls in less than 40 seconds. She finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and five assists before fouling out.
"I wouldn't say I was surprised at how hard they were working. It's an Elite Eight game, trying to go to the Final Four," James said. "There was never one point when I thought they would ease up. It wasn't surprising at all. There was a lot at stake."
Afure Jemerigbe finished with 14 and Talia 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, but it was far from easy.
California trailed 49-39 with 6:46 left after Barbee hit a pair of free throws. The Bears got back into the game by halftime overcoming a horrible shooting start, but each run early in the second half was rebuffed by the Lady Bulldogs.
This time Cal had an answer going on a 13-1 run to take a 52-50 lead on Brittany Boyd's two free throws after drawing the fifth foul on James.
Not having James on the floor showed immediately as Georgia turned it over on its next two possession, helped by a pair of blocked shots by Jemerigbe, the second with 51 seconds left. But the Bears' free throw struggles that nearly cost them in the second round against South Florida returned when Jemerigbe missed the front-end of a 1-and-1 with 27 seconds left. Griffin missed a 3 for Georgia, but Armstrong scored to force the extra session.
Georgia went up 55-52 when Khaalidah Miller hit a 3 to start overtime, but the Bears took command. Jemerigbe hit a 3-pointer with 2:48 left in overtime to give California a 59-55 lead and Clarendon later added a rebound putback for a 61-55 advantage with 1:26 remaining.
Barbee hit a pair of free throws with 1:03 left, but instead of fouling, Georgia chose to play defense. Clarendon made them pay, spinning away from Barbee and hitting a 15-footer with 37.9 seconds left for a 63-57 lead. Barbee scored with 15.6 seconds remaining, but Gray split a pair of free throws for Cal. Armstrong hit a 3 with 3.4 seconds left to get within 64-62, but Clarendon split free throws and Barbee's desperation shot was off.
Armstrong finished with 12 points, but Georgia leading scorer Jasmine Hassell was held to seven points.
"A lot of people didn't expect us to do as well as we did, but we always knew our potential," Miller said. "We beat some really good teams and I think we played well the entire season. We just came up short tonight."