Georgia’s upset win over Stanford earned them the right to celebrate for a short while, but one big hurdle remains before the program returns to the Final Four for the first time since 1999. 2-seed Cal broke open a game that was tied at halftime to beat LSU 73-63. LSU gave up 47 points in the second half as their upset bid fell short. Georgia will meet Cal on Monday night at 9:30 ET on ESPN with a trip to New Orleans on the line.
Cal will be every bit the challenge that Stanford was. They’ve only lost three times all season, and they were co-Pac-12 champs after beating Stanford during the regular season. The Golden Bears considered themselves Stanford’s equal and had anticipated a rematch in the regional finals before Georgia crashed the party.
But while Cal might be comparable to Stanford in quality, it’s a completely different style of challenge for Georgia. The Iowa State and Stanford games were big tests of Georgia’s ability to grind against two very good halfcourt-minded teams. Neither opponent liked to push the tempo, and they presented Georgia with few opportunities to run. Not so with Cal.
The Golden Bears are quick and athletic and are scoring around 72 points per game. It could present Georgia with a chance to push the tempo a little more, but there’s also the danger of getting into a shootout with a team that can get out and run themselves. It will be an extreme test of Georgia’s ability to control tempo with its defense. Georgia’s offense will also have to limit the turnovers and long rebounds that let Cal’s outstanding transition offense get going the other way. If you need an SEC comparison, think Kentucky – especially on offense.
Cal is led by senior guard Layshia Clarendon. She averages over 16 points per game, and she fueled Cal’s explosive second half against LSU with 16 points and 6 steals after intermission. Brittany Boyd handles point guard duties. She has 145 assists on the year but can also score with over 12 points per game.
Forward Gennifer Brandon averages a double-double and will be a tough matchup inside. Georgia’s posts can’t afford too much attention on Brandon because center Talia Caldwell gets over 9 PPG. The defensive assignments will be interesting – does Hassell match up against the better scorer or rebounder in Brandon, or does she get the true center in Caldwell? How will Armstrong fit in this post defense?
Cal, as any good transition team does, draws fouls and gets to the line. The Golden Bears have attempted at least 24 free throws in each tournament game so far and earned an amazing 41 trips to the line in their win over LSU. Georgia must be disciplined with their fouls. Hassell got into trouble against Stanford with some unnecessary fouls away from the basket, and those need to be avoided against a team that knows how to draw contact and get to the line.
If Georgia can avoid sending Cal to the line and force the Golden Bears into playing a lot of halfcourt offense, the Lady Dogs could have the advantage. Cal shoots only about 30% from outside, and LSU held them to 3-11 from beyond the arc. Even in victory, Cal is giving up over 71 points per game in the tournament. That speaks to both the tempo at which they like to play and the opportunities that should be there for Georgia’s offense.
On paper, it’s a mismatch in terms of coaching experience. Andy Landers has coached in 11 regional finals while second-year Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb is coaching in her first regional. But Gottlieb’s two seasons have been packed with success. Cal finished second in the Pac-12 a year ago and advanced to the NCAA second round. This year her team was conference co-champs, and she has them playing deep into the tournament. Neither team’s players have played at this stage of the tournament before, so Georgia will hope that Landers’ experience can be a calming and deciding factor.
Baylor’s upset loss to Louisville on Sunday night opens things up on Georgia’s side of the bracket. One of Georgia, Cal, Tennessee, or Louisville will play for the national title. Georgia’s win over Stanford made bigger things possible, but Cal stands in the way of the road to New Orleans and the Georgia program’s sixth Final Four. This is new territory for the Cal program, but they expected to be here. Can Georgia put aside the success they had against Stanford and get up again to play a favored and determined opponent?