California beats Fresno St. 70-47 in NCAA tourney

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LOS ANGELES (AP)—In a game with two players named Ashley Walker, only one stood out. California’s Ashley Walker always saves her best for the NCAA tournament, and the senior did so again.

Walker scored 21 points and Cal’s perimeter defense overwhelmed Fresno State in a 70-47 first-round victory Saturday night in the Trenton Regional.

The Bears (26-6) advanced to a second-round game Monday against fifth-seeded Virginia (24-9), which beat 13th-seeded Marist 68-61 at Galen Center on Southern California’s campus.

LaShay Fears tied her career-high with 18 points and Marnique Arnold grabbed 11 rebounds for the 13th-seeded Bulldogs (24-9), whose five-game winning streak ended as they went out in the first round for the second consecutive year. Fresno State’s Ashley Walker was scoreless.

“We lost, but we can still appreciate the fact we won 24 games,” Fears said.

Playing in her final NCAA tournament, Cal’s Walker was 9-of-12 from the floor and grabbed eight rebounds. She has scored 20 or more points in four of the five NCAA tourney games she’s played.

“That’s who I am. I’m very consistent, especially now since I’m a senior,” she said. “I feel like I might as well leave everything on the floor and see how far my team can go and not have any regrets.”

Alexis Gray-Lawson added 14 points and Lauren Greif 11 in the 13th-ranked Bears’ sixth consecutive win over the Bulldogs.

Walker is from Modesto, not far from Fresno State’s campus.

“She is a very, very good player,” Bulldogs coach Adrian Wiggins said. “We recruited her out of high school. We doubled her a lot and she still scored a lot of points.”

The fourth-seeded Bears, who improved to 3-6 in the tourney, have never gotten past the second round in their six previous appearances.

They were right at home at Galen Center, though, having played two games on the same court during last week’s Pac-10 tournament, where the Bears were upset by USC in the semifinals.

The Bears opened the game on a 14-5 run, with Walker scoring 11 points, including nine in a row.

From there, the Bulldogs outscored Cal 15-10 to close to 24-20, the closest they got the rest of the game. But the Bulldogs also committed four of their 11 first-half turnovers in that stretch and twice trailed by 10 points, their largest deficit of the half.

Walker, Rama N’diaye and Natasha Vital each hit jumpers as Cal closed out the half on a 6-1 spurt to extend its lead to 30-21 while the Bulldogs committed three consecutive traveling turnovers.

“They did a great job of putting pressure on the perimeter,” Wiggins said. “They did a great job executing. We threw a lot of different things at them and they handled it really well.”

Walker scored the Bears’ first basket of the second half, and they quickly built a 46-23 lead. Greif, Vital and Gray-Lawson each hit 3-pointers, and Walker had another basket in Cal’s 16-2 run.

On Gray-Lawson’s 3-pointer, Walker stole the ball, tripped and fell getting upcourt but still managed to find her teammate beyond the arc. The Bears shot 42 percent from the floor.

Fresno State, the WAC tournament champions, led the nation in 3-pointers made per game all season, averaging 9.5. But the Bulldogs were just 4-of-18 against the Bears and committed 21 turnovers—five above their average.

“Our thing was taking away the 3,” Boyle said. “They don’t have the mid-range. It’s either shoot the 3 or get to the basket.”

The Bulldogs were limited to 32 percent shooting from the floor, with Jaleesa Ross, Hayley Munro and Bailey Amundsen—the Bulldogs’ three top scorers — all held under their double-digit averages.

“I didn’t have a great shooting day, but Shay pushed the ball and got to the hole,” Ross said. “They were giving us the layups and we kept taking them. We weren’t really looking for the 3.”

It was Fresno State’s second-worst loss of the season; the worst was a 100-62 defeat to Stanford, another Pac-10 team.

Updated Sunday, Mar 22, 2009

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Fresno St.
LaShay Fears LaShay Fears
6-9,  18 Pts
1 Rebs, 1 Assists
 California
Ashley Walker Ashley Walker
9-12,  21 Pts
8 Rebs, 2 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists

NCAA Tournament Scoreboard

Saturday, Mar 21