SPOKANE, Wash. — Layshia Clarendon was the first to get her hands on the regional championship trophy. Rightfully so, after getting California somewhere they’ve 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 Final Four 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 — from getting to the Final Four.
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.
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.
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.
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Connecticut is headed back to a familiar place — the Final Four.
Breanna Stewart scored 21 points and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 17 to help top-seed UConn rout Kentucky 83-53 on Monday night and advance to a record sixth-straight national semifinal.
The Huskies will face either Notre Dame or Duke in the national semifinals on Sunday in New Orleans. The Irish and Blue Devils play Tuesday night. 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 105 miles to the north of Bridgeport in Kingston, R.I.
This game wasn’t as close. Kentucky stayed close for the first 10 minutes with their “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 — honored as the outstanding player of the Bridgeport Regional — 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.
USC hires FGCU’s
Enfield as coach
LOS ANGELES — Southern California hired Andy Enfield as men’s basketball coach after he took Florida Gulf Coast to the round of 16 of the NCAA tournament.
Athletic director Pat Haden said Monday night that Enfield has reached an agreement to take over at the Pac-12 school.
Haden says Enfield’s success at FGCU wasn’t a flash in the pan and that his up-tempo style and stingy defense will be fun for both the Trojans players and fans.
The 43-year-old coach was 41-28 in his two seasons at the Fort Myers, Fla., school. He led the Eagles to a school-record 26 wins this season, including upsets of No. 2 seed Georgetown and No. 7 seed San Diego State as a 15th-seed in the NCAA tourney.
Enfield takes over from interim coach Bob Cantu, who had a 7-8 record after succeeding Kevin O’Neill, who was fired in mid-January.
Tubby Smith agrees
With Texas Tech
LUBBOCK, Texas — Tubby Smith is headed to Texas Tech to try to turn around another wayward program.
Smith agreed to terms Monday with Texas Tech to be its next coach, a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because an official announcement has not been made. Athletic department spokesman Blayne Beal said there was no agreement in place.
Interim coach Chris Walker went 11-20 this season and 3-15 in Big 12 play as the program tried to recover from Billy Gillispie’s volatile one-year tenure, which ended when he resigned in September.
In all, Smith is 511-226 (.693) in 22 seasons and his teams have won 20-plus games 19 times.