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Why, yes, it is, and I believe it’s the Cal Bears who are singing it! (Or, maybe it’s “Started From the Bottom”)

From Elliott: Cal women’s basketball team reaches its first Final Four

These Cal Bears just don’t quit.

Cal reached its first Final Four in history Monday night with another overtime victory — this time a 65-62 thriller over Georgia in front of a crowd of 5,863 at Spokane Arena.

The Bears (32-3) will play either Tennessee or Louisville in the national semifinals Sunday at New Orleans Arena.

Don’t count out Cal to reach the finale April 9. Not with a senior-led roster buoyed by gritty guard Layshia Clarendon, who had 25 points, including five in overtime, against the Lady Bulldogs.

From the AP:

 California coach Lindsay Gottlieb was in elementary school the last time a West Coast women’s basketball program not named Stanford reached the Final Four.

Gottlieb understood the drought and the difficulty in getting to the national semifinals. That’s partly why the grin on her face was so wide Monday night when Cal finally snapped that 25-year streak, sending the Golden Bears to New Orleans for the Final Four.

“These kids are brought in,” Gottlieb said. “So many things go into it and then you have to get a little lucky and then things have to go right, so I’m really conscious of this is special.”

From the Daily Californian:

All year long, head coach Lindsay Gottlieb wanted the Cal women’s basketball team to be recognized as an elite team. On Monday night at Spokane, Wash., the team took one step further in solidifying its rising recognition.

Seung Lee adds: A new era begins for California basketball

Breathe it in. Soak it up. Because, possibly, you’ll never see anything quite like this.

For the first 36 minutes against Georgia Monday night, the Cal women’s basketball team did not play Cal basketball. Star forward Gennifer Brandon couldn’t make a single shot. The offense was stuffed by Georgia’s zone defense.

Then it all just clicked at the most pivotal time.

From the Spokesman Review: Gritty Bears in Final Four

The University of California women’s basketball team didn’t expect anything less than a tug-of-war Monday night.

Earning its first trip to an NCAA Final Four couldn’t have been more difficult. And, in the end, more rewarding.

From David Lassen at the Alumni Report: Clarendon, Cal reach Final Four

Layshia Clarendon (San Bernardino Cajon) scored a game-high 25 points and Cal survived its second overtime game of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, beating Georgia 65-62 in Spokane, Wash., on Monday to advance to the Women’s Final Four in New Orleans.

Writes Michelle:

There might not be a cooler customer left in this NCAA tournament than the Cal senior with the sweet jumper. She is a patch of still water, an island of poise and surety.

Even her coach follows her lead.

“That kid is something special,” Lindsay Gottlieb said. “To have a guard like Layshia, who can look at her teammates and say, ‘It’s going to be OK,’ who handles the pressure she handles … there’s no question, you don’t get this far without a player like that.”

How far exactly? To New Orleans.

More praise from the AP: Cal senior Layshia Clarendon comes up clutch in leading Golden Bears to Final Four

Layshia Clarendon was smiling when California was trailing, was smiling when leading the Golden Bears rally, and couldn’t wipe the smile from her face after leading her team to its first Final Four.

“This is why you play basketball, for these big moments. Really enjoy them and just relish them,” Clarendon said.

What’s the Bear’s Winning Formula?, asks Cathy Cockrell, Aim high, don’t forget to dance

Gottlieb: I see it as my mission to take Cal basketball to the next level, and make this one of the premier programs in the country. There’s a lot of ways to do that. Obviously you have to put great players on the floor, and run great plays.

But I feel like there’s a shift going on in women’s basketball, where many of the pioneers of the game are getting close to retiring. So there’s an opportunity to help shape what this program looks like going forward.

But, there’s also the other side of winning:

Georgia seniors Jasmine Hassell and Jasmine James arrived at the interview room of the Spokane Arena with reddened, tear-filled eyes that told the story of their final college basketball game more than any stats sheet ever could.

Only minutes removed from a 65-62 overtime loss to California, Hassell and James tried to explain their emotions after the Lady Bulldogs blew a 10-point lead in the second half and fell one win short of the Final Four in the NCAA tournament.

Said coach Landers:

“I think, for the most part, this was a game that played out somewhat the way we thought it would,” UGA coach Andy Landers said. “We felt it was very important to get back in transition, that it was very important to keep the ball out of the lane, and to rebound the ball defensively, and when we were doing those things well, we were in a good position. When we broke down defensively and allowed that penetration and allowed them to rebound the ball on offense, we got in trouble. They’re a very good basketball team and have a lot of nice pieces. They made more plays than we did, and they deserve to win the game.”

There was another game last night and someone is singing “Aerosmith” (for the sixth time in row), ’cause what happened to the Wildcats was simple: A dreadful 9 minutes:

Connecticut whipped us in every way imaginable,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. “It was a rough 40 minutes for us tonight and they had a lot to do with that. They’re a very good team and I thought their players played extremely hard. We congratulate them.

Kevin Duffy: UConn fulfills obligation 6 years running, Post
Rich Elliott: Freshman Stewart earning raves, Post

UConn Puts The Hammer Down, Earns Sixth Straight Trip To Final Four, Courant
Jeff Jacobs: Baylor’s Loss Could Be UConn’s Gain, Courant

Huskies reach record sixth straight Final Four with rout of Kentucky, Register
Mike DiMauro: UConn women headed to Final Four for record sixth straight time, Register

Narratives change in sports much like cabbies in Manhattan: quickly, sometimes astonishingly and occasionally without much warning.

And so we present the UConn women, the belles of wouldas, shouldas and couldas all season, the owners of all the forlorn looks three weeks ago after another brutal loss to Notre Dame.

Could this have been the same group awash in utter joy Monday night?

Huskies advance to Final Four, Daily Campus

UConn 83, Kentucky 53, ESPN

“It definitely doesn’t get old,” UConn senior Kelly Faris said. “Each year is different, special in its own way. This is our last go-around, we want to go out with a bang. I’m fortunate to be part of this program where we make it every year. We never are satisfied until we get to that final game.”

Stewart leads way for UConn, ESPN

In one corner of Connecticut’s locker room, senior Heather Buck played a game of UNO with three teammates. The players were still wearing their uniforms, legs crossed, each holding a handful of cards, occupying themselves as they’ve learned to do.

Across the room, a ring of media encircled freshman Breanna Stewart, the reporters peppering her with questions about her 21-point performance, about how it feels to help the Huskies advance to the Final Four — their sixth consecutive — next weekend in New Orleans.

Between these two groups wandered some familiar faces — guard Caroline Doty, forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, center Stefanie Dolson — who were eating chicken fingers and teasing Stewart, happily distracting their younger teammate by occasionally calling out things such as, “Breanna is the best player ever!” and “We’re no good! We can’t talk!

Connecticut women roll to 83-53 win over Kentucky in Elite Eight, Lexington Herald Leader
UConn ends Kentucky’s bid once again, Lexington Herald Leader

Last season, Connecticut’s big run came midway through the second half, but this season it came early and often, including a 26-3 spree to end the first half and any hope of a Kentucky comeback at Webster Bank Arena in front of 8,594.

In that span, Kentucky managed just one basket, a banked in three-pointer by little-used reserve Jelleah Sidney, in the final 10 minutes of the first half. UK missed 13 shots in that second part of the second half.

Mark Story: UK women hit a class ceiling in effort to make Final Four, Lexington Herald Leader

So, now the questions start.

Any talk that Mitchell “can’t win the big one” is wildly premature. In its now three Elite Eight losses on his watch, Kentucky has faced opponents that were seeded higher and had more talent than the Cats.

However, it is hard not to wonder if the style of play that has turned UK into a consistent NCAA round of eight team might need to be tweaked a bit for Kentucky to take the proverbial next step. Can a team as reliant on full-court defensive pressure and points off turnovers as Kentucky break through against teams as skilled as UConn?

Finally (and Diggins can blame GH if things don’t go the way she wants tonight), Graham has: Five who got the last laugh

He or she who laughs last, gets closer to New Orleans. Maybe that’s not exactly how the phrase goes, but the second week of the NCAA tournament served as an opportunity for players, coaches and even conferences to make a point.

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Prairie Chicken

Sharp Tailed Grouse

Now I get to read about the other kind of hens.

From Graham: Blue Hens head to first Sweet 16

All right, how much do you really love the game?

That’s the question Elena Delle Donne told her dad she thought some higher power had posed when she was diagnosed with Lyme disease during her second season playing basketball at the University of Delaware.

She was the high school star who became even more famous for walking away from the game than she had been as a 6-foot-5 kid doing things on a basketball court nobody had ever seen someone her size do before.

She was the lost soul who found what she was looking for in the touch of a sister and the embrace of a community. And who found her way back to a game she once swore she would never again play.

From the AP: No regrets for Delaware’s Elena Delle Donne

Whenever Delaware’s NCAA Tournament run ends, Elena Delle Donne will look back on her college career with no regrets.

“Honestly, I think the happy ending has already occurred,” Blue Hens coach Tina Martin said. “The happy ending is that Elena is happy.”

Delaware will now face the Wildcats and the AP’s Garry Graves says Kentucky ready for matchup with Delaware star

“She’s only a part of what they do because they have team chemistry,” Mitchell said of Delle Donne. “You make a big mistake if you put it solely on one player. She’s very important obviously to what they want to do because she’s so talented, but we’ll be really trying to make this more about our team and how we do what we do well. I think that’ll be very important to make our tempo a factor, our defensive pressure a factor.”

Yes, Michigan women’s basketball season ends in blowout 73-40 loss to Stanford, which allows Michelle to offers: Stanford shoots into Sweet 16 – Cardinal’s Tinkle is lights out with career-high five 3-pointers

When Joslyn Tinkle sat in front of the microphone after the game and said “I deserved that game,” it was not a statement of conceit or ego.

It was the result of a bug in her ear by a sage head coach, who had a bit of an epiphany on Monday when she realized that her players might be experiencing more pressure than pleasure.

Looking to the future, Elliott Almond at the Mercury News writes: Stanford anticipates physical matchup with Georgia

The Bulldogs are led by Jasmine Hassell, a 6-foot-2 All-SEC forward, and Jasmine James, a 5-9 senior guard. Georgia has the kind of balanced team that has been difficult on the Cardinal (33-2).

Bring it on, Stanford players said Wednesday.

“I like games that might not be called closely,” said guard Sara James, whose lockdown defense helped the Cardinal defeat Michigan on Tuesday night. “I like to be physical.

Their fellow conference-mates had a tough time against the stubborn Bulls, but the California Golden Bears are heading into Sweet 16

The Cal women’s basketball team nearly imploded against a physical and battle-tested South Florida squad in the NCAA tournament’s round of 32, but regained its composure just in time.

After a nightmarish finish to regulation, the Bears needed overtime before they could finally celebrate an 82-78 win at United Spirit Arena on Monday that advances Cal to the Sweet 16 for just the second time in school history.

Stephanie Hammon chronicles Cal’s Reshanda Gray’s journey from South Central Los Angeles to Sweet 16

Reshanda Gray, the energetic 6-foot-3 forward on Cal’s Sweet Sixteen women’s basketball team, continues to live a Cinderella story.

If she hadn’t discovered basketball in middle school, Gray isn’t sure where life in South Central Los Angeles would have taken her. She’s pretty sure her path wouldn’t have included college.

Their win means the Bears will face the Tigers. Trey Illes at the TImes Picayune thinks the LSU women’s basketball team had magnificent victory against Penn State

Call them LSU’s Magnificent Seven. Lady Tigers senior guards Adrienne Webb and Bianca Lutley played the lead roles in sixth-seeded LSU’s 71-66 NCAA women’s basketball tournament victory against third-seeded Penn State on Tuesday night in LSU’s Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

Webb scored 29 points on 10 of 16 shooting, including three free throws in the final 21.8 seconds. Lutley, playing with four fouls, gave the Tigers the lead for good with 40.8 seconds with a bucket.

The Tigers hope for junior point guard Jeanne Kenney’s return but prep without her

From Kate Fagan: Kentucky’s Mathies guts it out

On Monday afternoon, Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell decided to answer a question that wasn’t even directed at him.

The query had been for guard A’dia Mathies, wondering if she was at all concerned after failing to score a basket in Kentucky’s first-round win against Navy. Mathies responded in her usual quiet manner, saying something about not letting one game define her. Then Mitchell leaned into his microphone and said, “I have no doubt that A’dia Mathies will play an outstanding game on Tuesday.”

At Swish Appeal, Queenie has Mathies carries Kentucky to Sweet Sixteen

Kentucky already knows one part of their future: Assistant Matt Insell is the new Ole Miss coach.

From Charlie: Defense leads the way for UConn – Huskies advance to 20th straight Sweet 16, where Maryland awaits

Saturday was about executing the offense and making shots. UConn’s second-round 77-44 victory over Vanderbilt on Monday had a different catalyst: defense.

The Huskies’ ability to win games by different means is the primary reason they’ve been at or near the top of women’s college basketball for six years. Call it dominance by versatility.

The offense wasn’t necessarily lousy Monday, but it wasn’t exactly clicking early. Yet 11 minutes into the game, the Huskies had forced nine turnovers and turned them into 15 points for a 23-13 lead. It didn’t matter that other than Stefanie Dolson, UConn’s passing was shaky. It didn’t matter that some of those 15-footers that fell in Saturday’s 68-point win over Idaho weren’t finding the bottom of the net against the Commodores for much of the first half. The Huskies’ defense was in control.

The UConn players give ESPN their best ‘Geno’ impressions.

UConn will face Maryland ’cause  the Terrapins’ Thomas was tough on Michigan State. From Gene Wang at the Washington Post: 

“I think it speaks volumes to Alyssa when the bigger the game, the bigger the stage and the moment, just how she rises to the occasion,” Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said. “I’ve said this before: The most competitive player I’ve ever coached. You see her will our team into her mind-set, and you continue to see that time and time again.”

Mark Cardillo says there’s Something About Maryland

Brenda Frese and her Maryland team — a team that lost three players to ACL injuries — is upbeat and isn’t happy to be merely a stepping stone to another UConn victory. Last season in the Sweet Sixteen, Maryland defeated then defending champion Texas A&M.

The schools met on Dec. 3 in Hartford, with the Huskies winning 63-48. Maryland players said they learn a lot from that experience and won’t be intimidated on Saturday

A cross-post, Nate points us to Jordan Esco

…this Oklahoma team has suffered more than maybe any other Sherri Coale team in her tenure and yet here they are, coming back to play in Oklahoma City and in the Sweet Sixteen. The magnitude of that and what this team has accomplished this year really cannot be emphasized enough…I don’t really care whether or not you’re aware they were so desperate for bodies, just to be able to go 5-on-5 in practices, that they had to borrow two players from the volleyball team.

At a certain point, it’s not really about that. At a certain point, it’s about recognizing the accomplishment and giving it the respect it/they deserve.

From the Oklahoma Daily: Women’s basketball looking strong for NCAA Elite Eight.

From the Oklahoman, Stephanie Kuzydym writes: Pat Summitt shaped Sherri Coale, Sooner players

Eyes grow wide, smiles spread and words like “legend” and “model” flow freely.

Tennessee head coach emeritus Pat Summitt shaped Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale and her players such as Whitney Hand, Jasmine Hartman and Joanna McFarland years ago.

On Sunday, Oklahoma will face Tennessee for the first time since a loss in Knoxville in January 2010. This Sweet 16 meeting will be the first time the Sooners will play the Vols without the legendary Summitt at the helm. After 38 years in charge, Summitt is in her first year as Tennessee’s head coach emeritus. She announced August 2011 that she was diagnosed with early onset dementia.

“I don’t know if there are any words,” Coale said of what Summitt did for women’s college basketball. “No one will ever rival what Pat Summitt’s done.”

Speaking of Tennessee, Dan Fleser says Lady Vols must deal with ‘head of the snake’ against Sooners.

And, deservedly so, Warlick finalist for rookie coaching award. After defeating Creighton, Tennessee is not in unfamiliar territory in Oklahoma City regional. The will want more on defense, though.

Down the hall from where Warlick spoke, the Lady Vols weren’t so impressed. They sat in harsher judgement on the stools in their locker room. The consensus opinion was that they shouldn’t be satisfied.

“Not at all; Not at all,” freshman Jasmine Jones said. “We made several mistakes on defense, but we were able to stay in the game. We have to be more consistent on our defense.”

Nate offers up: Louisville coach Jeff Walz proud of his team for overcoming adversity to make Sweet 16

The Louisville Cardinals are yet another team that sustained a few injuries this season in the Oklahoma City region and coach Jeff Walz credited his team for overcoming those after their 76-63 win over the Purdue Boilermakers to advance to the Sweet 16, as described by Mike Rutherford of SB Nation’s Louisville site Card Chronicle.

Lucky Cards get to face Baylor. Kevin Sherrington explains Why Baylor’s dominance is a good thing for women’s basketball. (How can THAT be?)

The AP’s Stephen Hawkins says Baylor is having fun while pursuing 2nd straight women’s title

Brittney Griner stopped at the edge of the podium, pulled out her iPhone and made a goofy face.

Before taking a self-portrait in front of the NCAA tournament backdrop after her final home game for Baylor, when she became the first woman with three dunks in a game, the 6-foot-8 Griner had teammates Brooklyn Pope and Odyssey Sims join her with silly grins of their own.

When coach Kim Mulkey turned and saw what was going on behind her, she started laughing.

Curt Rallo aat the SBT says Sustaining success a big challenge for Notre Dame

After Notre Dame captured the NCAAwomen’s basketball national title in 2001, the Irish reached the Sweet 16 four times in nine seasons, and did not reach the Elite Eight in that stretch.

That changed in 2011, when the Irish stormed to the national championship game. In 2012, the Irish returned to the title game.

This season, the Irish are a No. 1 seed, have beaten Connecticut seven of the last eight meetings, have beaten Tennessee three times in a row and swept the Big East regular season and tournament titles.

The difference is obvious — and simple.

The Fighting Irish will face up start Kansas who, says Curt, owe a lot to their defense.

According to Henrickson, Engelman, Davis and Goodrich have fueled a surge by the Jayhawks’ program. Prior to last season’s NCAA Tournament appearance, the Jayhawks had not earned an NCAA berth since 2000.

“All three of those kids have given a lot to the program,” Henrickson said. “They’ve changed the face of the program. They will leave the program in a lot better hands then when they got here, which is why they came here.

Taking down Texas A&M, at home, was a pretty impressive accomplishment for the Cornhuskers. Gotta love coach Blair’s graciousness in defeat:

“Sorry we were a little short tonight on how we played the game,” Blair said. “I know we could do better, but I don’t know if Nebraska could play any better than they did. They were magnificent.”

Not only are Native Nebraskans all over NCAA Division I hoops, the Huskers’ win was enough for an Iowan to commit sacrilege: Like Nebraska? Even an Iowan can come around

I’m a Hawkeye.

And Hawkeyes don’t like Cornhuskers. And Iowans don’t like Nebraskans, in a moderate Midwest sort of way. It’s not like we would attack Cornhuskers, but we might be prompted to say, “Hawkeyes rule, Cornhuskers drool!” in a confrontation outside the football stadium.

If Nebraska defeats Duke, coach Yori will get a nice bonus.

New Jersey is proud that Peddie School grad Peters has led Duke women into the Sweet 16

Growing up with two older brothers, chances are you’re going to get pushed around a bit. Especially in sports.

While Haley Peters’ basketball skills have improved every year since her days at The Peddie School, what hasn’t changed is her will to win.

Yes, the Duke women are eyeing 1st Final Four since 2006. Sam Mckewon says Duke is expecting a stress test from Nebraska’s offense

Defense is what has her concerned as Duke prepares to play Nebraska, which scored 73 and 74 points in its first two NCAA tourney games. NU has a “terrific” and “durable” point guard in Lindsey Moore, McCallie said, and forwards Jordan Hooper and Emily Cady “can pop 3s quicker than you can say ‘boo.’”

The Huskers’ ability to spread the floor, draw defenders out of the paint and get layups at the basket is the “big challenge” to defend, McCallie said.

“They run a great motion offense,” said McCallie, who’s led her team to three straight Elite Eight berths. “They screen well and they’ll go back door on you.”

Did you catch the espnW blogs?

Michelle Smith writes Five observations (and one tweet) from Tuesday

The field has been pared to 16 teams, and we are a lot wiser than we were when the brackets came out. Here’s what we know now.

• 1. Brittney Griner recognizes a big moment when she sees it: Was it because former President George W. Bush and his wife were in the house? Or was she trying to give the home crowd at the Ferrell Center something to remember? Let’s go with the latter and say Griner’s three dunks in Baylor’s otherwise typically dominant win over Florida State was just the 6-foot-8 superstar making herself a little memory.

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“Battle of the Bays” poster is prepared for fans attending the Bears v. Cardinal game this Sunday, 9pm, EST. This could be a seriously important “Notice us!”game for Cal.

The NCAA tv/streaming page says it’s on FSN (Fox Sports Net). My local NYC listings says it’s also playing on MSGPlus (channel 48). Fingers crossed I’ll be late for work on Monday.

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Cal leading scorer Stallworth to transfer

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From norcalnick at California Golden blogs: Women’s Week In Review: Postmortem On The Road Trip From Hell

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