March 21, 2009

LOS ANGELES -- 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 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 against either fifth-seeded Virginia or 13th-seeded Marist, which met later Saturday 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.

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.

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

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.

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.

They 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.

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