Seniors lead way as Cal claims its first spot in women's final 16

LOS ANGELES -- A powerful inside duo and a sharp-shooting guard helped California put up NBA-like numbers in taking the school where it's never been before.

Ashley Walker scored 20 of her career-high-tying 32 points in the first half, and Cal used its strong inside game to rout Virginia 99-73 Monday night, sending the Golden Bears to the NCAA tournament's final 16 for the first time in school history.

Devanei Hampton had 22 points and 11 rebounds and junior Alexis Gray-Lawson added 22 points for the fourth-seeded Bears (27-6), who advanced to the Trenton Regional semifinals Sunday in New Jersey. They'll play the winner of Tuesday's game between Connecticut and Florida.

"We just said we don't want this to be our last game. We're going to leave it all the court," Walker said. "We just played with our hearts and souls."

Seniors Walker, Hampton and Gray-Lawson scored 76 of their team's 99 points, by far Cal's highest-scoring game this season.

"Without this big three, our team would still be as great," Gray-Lawson said. "I would definitely call us the big 11 because it took all 11 players to come out here and get 99 points."

Monica Wright scored 26 points before fouling out with 2:23 remaining for fifth-seeded Virginia (24-10), seeking its first trip to the regional semifinals since 2000.

The loss denied Hall of Fame coach Debbie Ryan her 700th career victory.

"They came out swinging and we were taking punches and not swinging back," Ryan said. "Their high-low game was really good to start the game and we just had no answer for it. We went zone, we went man, we tried different players. There's no excuse, they just flat-out beat us in every aspect of the game."

The Bears' 27th victory equaled the most in program history, a mark set last year when they were 27-7. They improved to 4-7 in NCAA tournament games, and advanced out of the second round a year after losing to George Washington in their second game.

Virginia owns a much grander basketball history, with Final Four appearances in 1990, '91 and '92 under Ryan, who has spent her entire 31-year career in Charlottesville.

But the Cavaliers simply couldn't match up with the inside duo of the 6-foot-1 Walker and 6-3 Hampton, who led the Bears to a 32-18 first-half edge in the paint.

The Bears hadn't beaten an Atlantic Coast Conference school since Dec. 21, 1993, when they defeated Duke and Joanne Boyle, the current Cal coach who was a first-year Duke assistant.

"It was fun to watch," Boyle said. "I knew this was in my team, it was there. The emphasis this week was sharing the basketball. Understanding that it has to come from all of them really showed in these two games here."

Walker snapped a 12-all tie with a layup that launched the Bears on a 41-23 run and gave them a 53-35 halftime lead. Walker had 16 points in the spurt, Hampton added eight, Lauren Greif seven and Gray-Lawson six on back-to-back 3-pointers.

Greif finished with 10 points and a career-high nine assists.

Walker's jumper in the paint gave Cal its first double-digit lead, 28-18, and the Bears went on to their largest lead of 19 points near the end of the half.

"We didn't do our best job on the defensive end," said Wright, whose eyes welled with tears afterward. "We allowed Hampton and Walker to dominate in the paint and their guards shot well from the 3. We dug ourselves a hole."

Cal outscored the Cavaliers 10-6, including 3-pointers by Gray-Lawson and Natasha Vital, to open the second half and take a 63-41 lead.

Virginia answered with a 16-5 run to close to 68-57 with 11:43 remaining. Wright scored 10 points as the Cavaliers got more aggressive and took advantage of misses and turnovers by the Bears.

But 11 points was as close as Virginia got the rest of the game.

"I was really shocked, but we've had three games like this this year," Ryan said. "All three teams had very big post players and we struggled with the inside game. Hampton and Walker are so big inside, and they were really on tonight."

Walker, Hampton and Gray-Lawson combined for a 13-4 spurt that pushed the Bears' lead to 81-61 with 6:26 remaining.

"We're just a different team right now," Gray-Lawson said. "We just don't want to go home and we don't want to be without each other."

Walker scored more than 20 points for the fifth time in six career NCAA tournament games. She had 21 points in Cal's 23-point first-round win over Fresno State.

Los Angeles Sparks and former Tennessee star Candace Parker took in the game, along with Sparks coach Michael Cooper. Parker is expecting her first child this summer.