STANFORD, Calif. (AP) -- For George Washington, the postgame talk was about an improbable comeback led by a senior leader that will go down as one of the best wins in school history.
For California, it was about a disputed call and a blown opportunity to add yet another accomplishment to this barrier-breaking season.
Sarah-Jo Lawrence capitalized on an untimely Cal turnover in the final seconds by rebounding an airball by Kimberly Beck and beating the buzzer with a shot from the baseline that gave the sixth-seeded Colonials a 55-53 victory over No. 3 California on Monday night.
"It's going to go down as one of the great games in GW history," coach Joe McKeown said. "We were behind the whole game, we just kept battling. I told the players at halftime that this is a player's tournament ... and they just made plays. Kim made a great pass to Sarah Jo for that alley-oop. That's something we practice every day."
McKeown then laughed, knowing it's hard to plan for an airball turned game-winning assist or the play that set it up for the Colonials (27-6).
After Lawrence tied the game with a driving layup with 12.1 seconds to go, Cal worked the ball over midcourt. Natasha Vital dribbled toward the Cal bench and tried to call a timeout with less than 6 seconds remaining. The only problem was the official ruled she took an extra step before making the timeout signal, a call the Golden Bears dispute.
"I thought I called timeout," Vital said, fighting tears while being consoled by assistant coach Charmin Smith. "I feel like we should have won the game. We didn't. During the game, we could have done a lot more. Too bad we were on the losing side."
Cal (27-7) had little time to stew over the call. Beck pushed the ball up court and missed badly from the baseline. But there was still time left for Lawrence to grab the rebound on the other side and convert the game-winner that extended her college career for at least one more game.
"There was still time to get a rebound if it didn't go in," Lawrence said. "Luckily, it came right to me, I put it up and made it."
The winning shot sent the Colonials into a delirious celebration that had to be put on hold for a moment as the officials checked the replay to make sure the shot got off on time. As soon as the basket was signaled good, they headed to midcourt and danced on the NCAA logo. They waved at the crowd while jumping up and down.
George Washington advanced to play Rutgers in the Greensboro Regional semifinal. The two teams met earlier in the season with the Scarlet Knights blowing out the Colonials.
"Whoever lost that game was going to be devastated," Colonials center Jessica Adair said. "It was a great game. We're playing great. We came to this tournament to win. We don't want to go home early."
Cal had been hoping to make it to that round for the first time ever after setting school records for wins, best finish in the Pac-10 and first top 10 ranking. But that breakthrough season came to a bitter end.
Devanei Hampton put her hands over her mouth and then onto her head in disbelief and shock after the winning basket. Ashley Walker was lying flat on her back until Alexis Gray-Lawson helped her up and they slowly walked off the court arms around each other. The Colonials made their way to the Cal bench to shake hands because the Golden Bears were still too stunned to move.
"This game doesn't define our season," said coach Joanne Boyle, who fell to 0-8 all-time against George Washington. "I'm disappointed for them. They deserved the opportunity to move forward and that didn't happen tonight."
Cal blew a seven-point lead in the final 4 minutes, failing to score in the last 3:20 of the game as the Bears missed out on advancing to the regional semifinals for the first time in school history.
Antelia Parrish scored 15 points to lead George Washington and Lawrence added 13.
Walker led Cal with 19 points and nine rebounds. Gray-Lawson added 14 points and a career-high nine boards. Hampton was held to four points and committed six turnovers. Cal had 14 turnovers in all, none bigger than the travel in the final seconds that cost the Bears a chance at their first trip to the regional final in school history.
This matchup between two of the stingiest defenses in the country proved to be the low-scoring affair people expected, but the Colonials were able to come up with the big baskets when they needed them.
After Cal opened a seven-point lead with 4 minutes to go, Parrish hit a 3-pointer to get George Washington right back into striking distance. After two free throws by Walker made it a six-point game, Whitney Allen scored underneath to get it back to four.
Gray-Lawson missed the front-end of a one-and-one and Adair scored to make it a two-point game. The Colonials missed a chance to tie the game at 53 when they committed a shot-clock violation coming out of a timeout with 48.9 seconds to go. But Cal couldn't capitalize as Vital shot an airball as the shot clock wound down, setting up Lawrence's tying layup.
"I thought we got a little tentative at the end," Boyle said.