SPOKANE, Wash. - Layshia Clarendon was the first to get her hands on the regional championship trophy. Rightfully so, after getting California somewhere it's 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 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.
Jemerigbe finished with 14 and Caldwell added 10, with six coming in the final 3:30 of regulation and in overtime.
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.
UConn 83, Kentucky 53: In Bridgeport, Conn., Breanna Stewart scored 21 points and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 17 to help top-seed UConn rout No. 2 seed Kentucky 83-53 and advance to a record sixth-straight national semifinal.
UConn (33-4) broke a tie with Stanford (2008-12), LSU (2004-08) and itself (2000-04) by reaching the Final Four again.
It was the second straight season that UConn beat Kentucky in the regional finals. The Huskies topped the Wildcats by 15 last year.
This game wasn't as close. Kentucky stayed close for the first 10 minutes with its "40 minutes of dread" defense. Then UConn turned up its own defensive intensity.
The Huskies trailed 23-22 with just 9 minutes left in the first half. That's when Stewart and UConn's "no-name" defense took over, allowing three points the rest of the half.
"We're either right on point, we do everything right or we get a little bit off kilter and lose our composure a little bit," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Once we got into our rhythm and our tempo, we just played good basketball."
Kentucky missed 13 of its final 14 shots in the half with the only make coming when Jelleah Sidney banked in a 3-pointer from the wing.
While UConn was playing lockdown defense, Stewart was dominating on the offensive end. The 6-foot-4 star scored nine points and had a vicious two-handed block during that closing run. UConn led 48-26 at the half.