March 22, 2008
STANFORD, Calif. (AP) -For a week and a half, Ashley Walker and her California teammates could only stew about a blowout loss in the Pac-10 championship and two years of NCAA tournament failure.
They took all that aggression out on San Diego.
Walker dominated the inside with 21 points and 12 rebounds, Devanei Hampton scored 22 points and the third-seeded Golden Bears won their first NCAA tournament game in 15 years, 77-60 over San Diego on Saturday.
"We came out of the gates running and doing what we normally do and getting back to our old selves," Walker said. "We were ready to play. Ten days is a long time not to play."
The best season in Cal (27-6) history had a disappointing finish as the Bears lost three of their final six games heading into the tournament, including a 56-35 loss to Stanford in the Pac-10 title game.
Walker and Hampton were held to seven points against the Cardinal, but the two powerful post players wouldn't let the Bears be one-and-done in the NCAA tournament for a third straight year.
"It was another of our goals that we set out to get to this year," Walker said. "Things did not go our way necessarily this season. We just wanted to show who we really are and what we can do in the tournament."
Cal took advantage of the opportunity to play close to home on Stanford's campus after losing in the first round the past two years in Pennsylvania. With many of their fans cheering on at Maples Pavilion and without the jet lag from a cross-country flight, the Bears overpowered the 14th-seeded Toreros (19-13) and built a 20-point first-half lead.
"Today we were a lot more consistent," guard Alexis Gray-Lawson said. "We were all rejuvenated and we forgot about the Stanford game."
Cal advanced to play sixth-seeded George Washington (26-6) in Monday's second round. The Colonials beat Auburn 66-56 earlier in the Greensboro Regional.
The joy from the win was overshadowed by a right knee injury to backup center Rama N'diaye, who hurt herself diving for a loose ball midway through the second half. N'diaye was being taken for X-rays.
"Injuries happen," coach Joanne Boyle said. "We've been in this situation before and people have stepped up. We just have to find our way with that."
Cal opened the game on a 14-2 run, getting 10 points from Walker and Hampton, and forcing Toreros coach Cindy Fisher to call a timeout less than 2 minutes into the game. The Bears made nine of their first 10 shots, with Walker getting the offensive rebound and scoring after the only miss.
That was the story of the game, as Walker had a double-double less than 12 minutes in and had eight offensive rebounds in the opening half.
"The great thing about Ashley is she's so quick to the ball," Boyle said. "It's just hard to find her. She got a lot of offensive rebounds and a lot of putbacks. She's crafty down there."
The Toreros were able to make a game of it after that for a short time before Walker sparked a 14-0 run late in the half that put it away. She started the run with two free throws, followed it with a three-point play and then fed Natasha Vital for an easy basket that made it 35-22. Cal capped the run when Walker fed Kelsey Adrian for a 3-pointer that made it 42-22 for one of her six assists.
"It was tough for us to match up against Cal, which obviously has an impressive inside presence," Fisher said. "We tried to do a few different things against them, but they executed really, really well. They took us out of what we wanted to do on the defensive end. They're a three seed for a reason."
Sam Child scored 14 points and Morgan Henderson added 13 for San Diego. The Toreros turned the ball over 14 times in the first half of their first tournament game since 2000 and dropped to 0-3 all-time in tourney play.
The Toreros rebounded after losing their first five games in the West Coast Conference to beat Gonzaga at home for the conference championship and automatic bid to the tournament. But San Diego was unable to follow the example set by the Toreros men's team, which upset fourth-seeded Connecticut on Friday.
"I think I let my nerves get the best of me early on," point guard Amanda Rego said. "I was forcing some shots and missing shots I normally hit."