LUBBOCK, Texas -- The Cal women's basketball team nearly imploded against a physical and battle-tested South Florida squad in the NCAA tournament's round of 32, but regained its composure just in time.
After a nightmarish finish to regulation, the Bears needed overtime before they could finally celebrate an 82-78 win at United Spirit Arena on Monday that advances Cal to the Sweet 16 for just the second time in school history.
When the No. 2-seeded Bears blew a 10-point lead with a minute left in regulation, coach Lindsay Gottlieb urged her team to forget the mistakes they made that caused the extra period.
The message was received. The Bears hit their free throws, eliminated the mental blunders and turned up their defense against No. 10 South Florida to reach the NCAA tournament's second weekend for the first time since 2009.
"I just said not one person looks behind us," Gottlieb said. "We don't need to talk about the time that's already passed, we're moving forward. ... (Overtime) wasn't easy, but there was no carry-over whatsoever, and that short memory is important. We know that we made mistakes down the stretch."
A victory over the winner of Tuesday's Penn State-LSU matchup in Spokane this weekend will give Cal (30-3) its first-ever Elite Eight appearance.
The Bears almost didn't get the chance to play another game.
In the final 1:28 of regulation, Cal made just three of 11 free throws to let the Bulls (22-11) back in it.
Fouling 3-point shooters twice in the final 12 seconds was even more costly. Especially the last one.
With 0.7 seconds left in regulation, South Florida's Inga Orekhova was fouled putting up a shot from beyond the arc. Orekhova, an 80 percent free throw shooter, nailed all three free throws to force overtime.
"It was one of those games where the clock couldn't tick any slower at the end," senior guard Layshia Clarendon said. "We made some really dumb plays and let them stick around the game."
Clarendon, who led the Bears with 27 points, split a pair of free throws to give Cal an 81-76 lead with 36.9 seconds left in overtime. After an Andrea Smith layup, Afure Jemerigbe went to the free throw line for Cal with 18 seconds remaining. She made one to give Cal a four-point lead, and the Bears' defense did the rest.
When the buzzer finally went off, they celebrated.
"There were some tears, a lot of hugs, a lot of gratitude," Clarendon said. "We made it to the Sweet 16, which no player (on the roster) had done yet."
Cal hit eight of 10 free throws in the extra period after hitting just 41 percent in regulation.
Forward Gennifer Brandon notched her second double-double of the NCAA tournament with 13 points and 12 rebounds as Cal got its inside game working in the second half.
Brittany Boyd, who was an assist shy of a triple-double in Cal's NCAA opener, packed the stat sheet again with 12 points, eight assists and eight rebounds before fouling out in overtime.
Andrea Smith scored 24 points to lead a South Florida team that was coming off its first NCAA tournament victory in school history, a 71-70 win over host Texas Tech in Saturday's first round. The Bulls, who hail from the Big East, also took No. 1 seed Notre Dame to overtime earlier this year.
South Florida trailed 37-32 at halftime and by as many as 14 in the second half before rallying against Cal.
Cal (30-3) vs. Penn State or LSU at Spokane, Wash., TBA
Stanford can punch its ticket to the Sweet 16 on Tuesday, but the defense will be tested by Michigan page 5
Tournament roundup. page 5