LOS ANGELES - California parlayed a fast start with a solid finish Thursday night to hold off Colorado and eliminate the Buffaloes from the Pac-12 Conference women's basketball tournament.
The second-seeded Bears defeated the tenth-seeded Buffs 68-59 at USC's Galen Center, leaving CU's uncertain postseason hopes in the hands of the WNIT selection committee. The Buffs finished their second season under Linda Lappe 18-13, while the Bears improved to 23-8 and moved into the Pac-12 semifinals.
Cal won for the third time against CU, which never led Thursday night and fell behind by as many as 16 points in the first half before bouncing back and at least unsettling the talented Bears.
"I liked our effort; I liked our fight and just the fact that we didn't quit at any point in the game," Lappe said "You know, there was a point in the first half where we could have stopped playing and it could have been a blowout. We took enough pride in who we were and what we were doing and the fact that we were on the floor."
During regular-season play, Cal defeated CU 68-55 in Boulder and 64-43 in Berkeley. The Buffs advanced to Thursday night's second round via a 55-41 win against No. 7 seed Utah the previous night.
Sophomore guard Brittany Wilson, who led CU with 21 points against Utah, again paced the Buffs with 18 points against Cal. Junior guard Chucky Jeffery added 16 and was the only other CU player in double figures.
Cal had four players in double figures, topped by Layshia Clarendon's 12. Lindsay Sherbert and Talia Caldwell added 11 each, and Reshanda Gray had 10.
The Bears held the Buffs to 37.5 percent shooting from the field in both halves (20-of-56) and outrebounded them 40-35. The way they started, it seemed reasonable to predict the Buffs would trail at intermission - and they did. But the Bears' 10-0 run to open the game wasn't an indication of how the Buffs would finish the half.
"It took us awhile to get our scoring going," Lappe said "It finally got going. The outcome wasn't what we wanted but I've got to be happy about how we played."
Showing no signs of rust or first-game nerves after their first-round bye, the Bears got six quick inside points from Caldwell and Gray and a pair of free throws from Sherbert to burst in front 10-0 before Jeffery finally hit a layup with 16:20 left before the break.
Lappe called the Bears "huge on the inside and we can't match them person for person on the inside but we did a great job of helping down. Our posts worked their tails off to try to keep it out of there as much as they could. They helped each other out; our guards helped them, really did some good things on the defensive end."
The Buffs closed to 11-7 - their smallest deficit of the half - before the Bears surged again, this time going on an 18-6 run to open a 16-point (27-11) lead.
CU - particularly Brittany Wilson - wasn't ready for the fork. In the final 3 minutes, she scored nine of her 11 first-half points on three three-pointers. Her first two treys were followed by a Lexy Kresl three-pointer that trimmed Cal's lead to 31-24, and the last one cut Cal's margin to 33-27.
"We didn't quit, but we kept fighting and I give credit to our players, they really rose to the challenge," Lappe said. "Brittany did a great job in that stretch of getting us going and giving us some confidence with our outside shot, getting to the rim."
But while "B-Wil" was getting into scoring mode, so was the Bears' Clarendon, who scored her team's last six points of the half and had Cal in front 35-27 at intermission.
The Buffs hit four-of-eight first-half three-point attempts, but were 0-for-11 in the second half.
"I thought we got a lot of great looks from three, even in the second half," Lappe said. "In the first half they were falling, a lot of it was because of Brittany. She hit two or three in the first half. In the second half Lexy Kresl had a lot of great looks that she often doesn't get because she is such a great shooter."
Even if their shooting touch went on leave, the Buffs' energy stayed with them through the break; they outscored the Bears 6-2 to open the second half, creeping to within four (37-33) on a put-back by senior Julie Seabrook.
Cal answered with an inside basket by Gray and a three-pointer by Sherbert and increased its lead to nine (42-33), then went up by double figures (43-33) again on one of two free throws by Sherbert. CU escaped any more immediate damage when Rachel Hargis was called for a flagrant foul under the basket, sending Gray to the line for two free throws.
She missed them both, and Cal didn't score on the accompanying possession. The Buffs stayed with the Bears thereafter, pulling within five (43-38) on a conventional three-point by Hargis with 11:11 remaining.
For the next 61/2 minutes, Cal held an eight-point lead or larger until a put-back by freshman Jasmine Sborov and one of two free throws by Brittany Wilson closed the gap to six (55-49) with 4:14 to play.
CU could get no closer before time ran out. Cal closed it out by hitting nine of 10 free throws in the final 1:16.
"Of course I wish we'd won, wish we'd pulled it out," Brittany Wilson said. "There was a stretch of four minutes where we could have gone down, but we battled with that team. For us to battle with that team, I think a lot of people thought we would lay down and got blown out because of the standings: they're two, we're 10.
"But it shows standings don't really matter; we can play with anybody and everybody in this tournament. We showed what we had and it was a great appearance."