Bears Rout Cougars to Advance to WNIT Semis

Photo: <b>Freshman DeNesha Stallworth</b> led the Bears in scoring on Saturday against the Cougars. Stallworth went 10-for-16 for 26 points and also had 11 rebounds in the effort.
Anna Hiatt/File
Freshman DeNesha Stallworth led the Bears in scoring on Saturday against the Cougars. Stallworth went 10-for-16 for 26 points and also had 11 rebounds in the effort.

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It's not an NCAA Tournament Final Four appearance, but with its 76-50 win over BYU, the Cal women's basketball team advanced to the WNIT semifinals.

"Would we have loved to be in the NCAA Tournament?" Bears coach Joanne Boyle said. "Yeah, but this has been great for us to have to travel and understand what it is to go deep into March."

For this team, going "deep into March" has meant increasing its margin of victory with each WNIT win. At the start of the tournament, UC Davis pushed the Bears into overtime before Cal scrapped out a five-point win. Three games later, the Bears' 26-point win over the Cougars became their largest margin of victory since December 2009. DeNesha Stallworth accounted for much of that lead, shooting 10-for-16 with 26 points and 11 rebounds, snagging the top-scoring honors from veteran Alexis Gray-Lawson for the second consecutive game.

Perhaps sitting out most of the first round game against the Aggies inspired the freshman's newfound tournament production.

"I was thinking that you can't be the only one not giving effort," Stallworth said. "You have to play your hardest like everyone else."

Already four games deep into the tournament and playing only two days after its round of 16 win in Oregon, Cal (22-13) has only gained postseason momentum.

That's why the Bears needed a second-half surge to down the Ducks, but never trailed against BYU (23-10) in Saturday's quarterfinal contest at Haas Pavilion.

"It's all growth and more games together, and success," Boyle said. "You can tell they are all playing with a lot more confidence. They're relaxed. They know each other better."

As the Bears dig deeper into March, they're only pulling further away from the field. That field, however, consists of the 64 teams that didn't make the NCAA Tournament cut. Still, this is the farthest Boyle and her team have advanced in the postseason.

"I won my last game at Haas; that is what I am thinking now," Gray-Lawson said after contributing 19 points in Saturday's contest. "I'm on my way to my first final four. Can't beat that."

The Bears are en route to the WNIT semifinals, but it can never end in an NCAA title.

But Boyle put this postseason appearance in perspective and shed light on the importance of experience for such a young team.

"Things happen for a reason," she said. "If we had crawled into the NCAA Tournament and then get waxed in the first game, not that it necessarily would have happened, you don't get the four games that we've had so far and going into our fifth."

After playing three out of four tournament games at home, Cal will make its furthest tournament venture to Normal, Ill. to face Illinois State on Thursday at 5:05 p.m. in Redbird Arena.


Contact Caroline Ogawa at [email protected]

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