California got a clutch effort in a win over Fresno State last season. At the Galen Center last week and in the NCAA tournament last year, the Golden Bears couldn’t come up with a similar performance.
Returning to the arena where they lost in this season’s Pac-10 tourney, the fourth-seeded Bears look to avoid another upset defeat in the NCAA tournament as they face the 13th-seeded Bulldogs in Los Angeles on Saturday night.
California (27-7) enters this Trenton Regional contest following a 69-67 loss to Southern California at the Galen Center last Saturday, missing a chance to advance to the Pac-10 tournament final.
The 13th-ranked Golden Bears thought they tied the game on a layup by Ashley Walker as time expired, but the officials waived off the basket after conferring for about 11 minutes.
“It left a bad taste in our mouth,” Cal forward Devanei Hampton said. “We want to go back there. We know that gym so well. We have to think of it as our home court.”
The Bears also were hurt by a questionable call in the second round of last year’s NCAA tournament, a stunning 55-53 upset loss to George Washington on March 24.
Cal turned the ball over in the final seconds and the Colonials capitalized by beating the buzzer with a shot from the baseline. On the Bears’ turnover, Natasha Vital tried to call a timeout but the official ruled she took an extra step before making the time out signal.
Cal did come through under pressure against Fresno State (24-8) last season, holding on for an 83-79 win Nov. 10, 2007.
Tied 79-all, Cal guard Alexis Gray-Lawson made a 3-pointer with 37 seconds to play and Fresno State missed a fastbreak layup before Gray-Lawson hit a final free throw to seal the victory.
The Bears have won five straight versus the Bulldogs and lead the series 20-5.
A matchup with a familiar opponent in a building in which it has played two straight games could give Cal an edge in the first round of a tough regional that includes top-seeded Connecticut. The Bears earned a team-record fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance despite losing three of their last five games.
Walker had 29 points and 15 rebounds versus Trojans, and the senior forward is averaging 19.3 points and 8.6 rebounds.
While the Bears rely heavily on Walker’s inside presence, the Bulldogs lead the nation in 3-pointers made per game with 9.5. Fresno State, though, shot 17.6 percent (3-for-17) from beyond the arc in its first NCAA tournament appearance, an 88-67 loss to Baylor on March 22.
The Bulldogs, who start three sophomores, hope they have learned from last year’s experience.
“It just came so fast last year from bracket parties to the first game, and we were back on the plane,” Fresno State coach Adrian Wiggins said. “Right now we have a different focus and that is going to help them.”
The Bulldogs got into this year’s tournament by winning the Western Athletic Conference tournament, beating Nevada 56-49 last Saturday.
Fresno State is led by sophomore guard Jaleesa Ross, who averages a team-high 13.8 points and is a career 41.7 percent shooter from 3-point range.
The winner of Saturday’s matchup will play fifth-seeded Virginia or No. 12 seed Marist on Monday.