Gray-Lawson scores 25 as Cal surprises Rutgers

BERKELEY, Calif. -- Alexis Gray-Lawson and Co. kept piling on the points and telling themselves the score was 0-0 to make sure they pushed even harder. That way California could withstand a Rutgers run, even though it never came.

For a team focused on finishing this season -- finishing out big games, that is -- the Golden Bears did just that.

Gray-Lawson hustled all over the court on the way to 25 points, nine rebounds and four assists and No. 7 Cal pulled off the biggest home victory of fourth-year coach Joanne Boyle's tenure with a 66-52 upset of third-ranked Rutgers on Friday night.

The Bears beat their highest-ranked opponent since a 74-65 win over then-No. 2 Stanford in Berkeley on Jan. 10, 1992.

"Just a great game," Boyle said. "I'm so proud of the kids. ... We've talked, this year in particular, about finishing, finishing big games. That was the theme. I was telling them how proud I am of them and thinking ahead, 'Where could we be in March?'"

Ashley Walker added 16 points and 10 rebounds as Cal (3-0) won its 32nd straight non-conference game in Haas Pavilion, pushing the tempo for the entire 40 minutes against the sluggish Scarlet Knights (2-1). This was the program's most notable victory since winning at rival and then-eighth-ranked Stanford 72-57 on Feb. 4, 2007.

Once the final buzzer sounded, Cal's players gathered at midcourt for a group embrace.

This Bears team was short-handed, too. Cal had said it would make game-time decisions on the status of injured centers Devanei Hampton -- the 2007 Pac-10 Player of the Year -- and Rama N'diaye as both recover from right knee surgery. Neither even dressed.

"It's great to see this team work the way we work without Dev and Rama," Walker said. "Nobody would expect us to do what we do. We said we're going to fight and we're going to sacrifice what we have to sacrifice. We told each other we all had to bring a little bit more to this game until we get our bigs back and I think we did that."

Of Rutgers' highly touted freshman class, April Sykes was the only one who did much, scoring 16 of her 18 points in the second half for cold-shooting Rutgers. Epiphanny Prince, who led the team in scoring in the first two games as the Scarlet Knights averaged 84.5 points, was held to 15 points on 6-for-15 shooting and limited because of foul trouble.

Trailing 30-20, Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer subbed for all five of her starters only about 2 1/2 minutes into the second half and Cal answered with a 9-2 spurt to go ahead by 18, 40-22. Kia Vaughn approached Stringer to go back into the game. Stringer then said something to the starters and sent them back in with 15:24 remaining -- but Cal's run to start the half still wound up at 22-2.

Stringer held a long meeting with her team after the game.

Vaughn began the game guarding Walker, who was coming off a 27-point, 17-rebound performance against Nevada on Sunday. Walker still found ways to stay involved in the offense and didn't force things when swarmed by defenders.

Gray-Lawson, who has been working to contribute more with her rebounding, hit the offensive glass at every opportunity to set the tone early for the Bears. She sat down for good with 1:16 to play and received a roaring ovation. Cal held a 36-28 rebounding advantage.

"I have been ready for this game for a really long time," Gray-Lawson said. "I'm at a loss for words. As soon as we got that first stop, I said, 'Let's go!' I was so excited after that, I was like, 'Let's freakin' do this!'"

Rutgers went scoreless for a 6-minute, 10-second stretch midway through the first half and trailed 28-20 at the break. The Scarlet Knights then went nearly five minutes without scoring in the second half.

Cal came out mixing its defense between a 3-2 zone and a man-to-man in an effort to force Rutgers to beat the Bears from the perimeter. The Scarlet Knights began the game 4-for-14, committed nine quick fouls and were outrebounded 12-5 in the opening 11 minutes after holding a 17.5-rebounding edge over their opponents in the first two games.

And this Bay Area weekend doesn't get any easier: Rutgers plays at Stanford on Sunday. The Scarlet Knights began the 2002-03 season on the road at Cal and Stanford, losing 64-60 to the Cardinal at Maples Pavilion on Nov. 22, 2002, despite a 22-3 run to start the second half.

Rutgers had won the three previous meetings against Cal, including a 56-51 victory at home last Dec. 10.

Boyle still isn't sure when Hampton or N'diaye will return.

N'diaye, who tore her anterior cruciate ligament in Cal's first-round NCAA game against San Diego in March, wasn't expected back until later this month or even early December.

Counting Crows lead singer Adam Duritz, good friends with Cal coach Joanne Boyle, sat in the first row above the Bears' bench and gave Boyle a good luck high-five before tipoff.