The No. 2 seed California Golden Bears (16-4, 25-6) were defeated by the No. 6 seed USC Women of Troy (11-9, 17-14) Saturday night in the semifinals at the Galen Center in Los Angeles, 69-67.
With Cal down two and 0.3 seconds left in the game, USC fans went silent as Cal junior guard Ashley Walker got a high-arcing inbounds pass under the basket and quickly hit a layup to tie the score.
Cal celebrated, and everyone at the Galen Center thought the game was going into overtime. But after an 11-minute review, the officials waved off the basket and the Women of Troy took the win. This was the third USC-Cal game this season decided by two points.
USC, who snapped an eight-game losing streak to the Golden Bears (their last win was February 2005), will appear in the Pac-10 title game for the first time ever. The Women of Troy are now 17-14 on the season and 6-7 in the tournament.
Official Bob Scofiled made a short statement regarding the ruling and the amount of time the refs took to make their decision:
“At the three-tenths of a second mark you can only tip at the basket. We determined that it was gathered and that the shot was no good.
"We wanted to know if the clock had started on time to make sure everything was good. It is what we looked for at the time and we looked at it three times from three different angles.”
USC head coach Mark Trakh was confident that the officials would make the call they did, since he had been on the other end of the same ruling the year before.
“We were playing Oregon State last year," Trakh said. "There were 0.3 seconds on the clock. The officials came over to us and said 'Whatever play you run, it's got to be a tip. It cannot be a catch.' We ran the exact same play that Cal ran.
"Nadia Parker went up and caught the ball, she made the basket, our kids went nuts. The referees huddled, just like they huddled here. They called it a catch. You cannot catch. It was the correct call in the loss to Oregon State for us, and it was the correct call tonight.”
USC scored first in tonight's matchup, and Cal failed to score on their first free-throw opportunities.
Senior forward/center Devanei Hampton got Cal on the board, but USC had an eight-point lead with 13:00 remaining in the first period.
The first half was all USC, as the Trojans dominated from the start and the Golden Bears did not have a chance to compete against their very strong defense. USC led at halftime, 31-24.
The Golden Bears then came back in the second period and would have sent the game into overtime if not for the final referee decision.
“Everybody did their part to get us back into the game," Walker said. "It was a hard-fought game and it came down to the wire.”
Walker had 29 points and 15 rebounds for Cal, followed by senior center Devanei Hampton with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Walker and Hampton were as much of a weapon on offense as they were on defense. Junior guard Alexis Gray-Lawson had eight rebounds, four each on offense and defense.
USC's senior guard Camille LeNoir had 25 points, followed by junior guard Hailey Dunham with 12 points and four rebounds. Sophomore center Kari LaPlante added 10 defensive rebounds.
LeNoir said only three words regarding the controversial ruling that may have won them the game.
“It's a rule.”
LeNoir scored in double figures for the second time in the tournament and 22nd time this season. Her 25 points were the sixth best in a tournament semifinal game. 21 came in the second half.
“It was just really a hard-fought game, and it is just sad that somebody had to come up on the short end,” Cal head coach Joanne Boyle said. "I could not be more proud of them. They gave everything in their tank.
"We put ourselves in a hole a little bit early, but they fought tooth and nail to get back into it, and I feel they did everything they could to win this game.”
Gray-Lawson was asked about her recent knee sprain.
“I'm fine," she said. "All I can do is to continue to rehab and get better. I personally feel like I am at 100 percent right now.”
After failing to beat a ranked team this season prior to the tournament, USC has done so twice in two days (They beat No. 16/25 Arizona State to advance to the semis, 70-65).
USC will be the lowest-seeded team ever to appear in the tournament championship game. They will try to duplicate the feat of their men's team, who won an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament earlier Saturday.
"We made it more interesting than we should have down the stretch, but it was a great game," Trakh said. "I'm just really thrilled that we're in the Pac-10 finals.”
For the eighth time in eight years, the No. 2 seed will not win the tournament.
The California Golden Bears now fall to 16-4 (25-6) and the USC Women of Troy improve to 10-9 (20-11). USC will face the winner of the second semifinal of the evening, either Stanford (18-1, 28-4) or UCLA (10-9, 17-14).
Courtesy of SportsPageMagazine.com
Photo Courtesy of Eric Wade