Getting soaked was a minor sacrifice in celebrating California’s first Pac-12 regular season title in school history.
“This is better than anything I could have imagined because this entire team has worked for every ounce of this,” Gottlieb said.
Talia Caldwell made 10 of 11 shots and finished with 22 points, and No. 6 California claimed a share of the Pac-12 Conference regular season title for the first time with a 78-50 win over Washington on Saturday afternoon.
The Golden Bears won their 15th straight and got a piece of their first conference crown along with Bay Area rival Stanford. The Cardinal defeated Washington State earlier Saturday to ensure they would at worst share the title with California.
Even though California will share the title, it’s still a benchmark moment for the program and Gottlieb, in just her second-year. She became just the fifth coach in conference history to win a league title in her first two years as a head coach.
“I’m just so happy for this team and this program and the Cal administration who backed this sport when Cal was last years ago and said we’re going to make it a priority,” Gottlieb said, while her cellphone continually dinged with congratulatory messages, including one from Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer. “You don’t ever expect a moment like this but it was everything you would expect it to be.”
Gennifer Brandon scored 12 points and grabbed 15 rebounds while Reshanda Gray had 13 off the bench and Layshia Clarendon added 10 points for the Bears. Caldwell and Brandon were part of California’s dominant interior advantage against the undersized Huskies. The Bears held a 54-18 advantage on points in the paint, had 17 second-chance points and grabbed 23 offensive rebounds. Caldwell made her first 10 shots before missing a driving right-hander with 8 minutes left.
“I didn’t think about the celebration. I only thought about winning it. I forgot about this part,” Caldwell said. “It’s so amazing.”
California was able to claim part of the conference title by splitting with Stanford earlier in the season and by dominating the rest of the conference. They finished 9-0 on the road in conference play and the 27 victories already matches the most in school history with the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments still to come.
It’s the first time since the 2003-04 season that Stanford has not won the regular season conference title outright. The Cardinal shared the title with Arizona in 2004. Stanford will still be the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 tournament with California the No. 2 seed.
“We’re going to be able to breathe a little bit after this. They may not have acted like it but I have felt some pressure the last couple of weeks to finish this,” Gottlieb said.
Jazmine Davis returned from a one-game suspension to lead Washington (19-10, 11-7) with 19 points. But the Huskies were outrebounded 56-22 and shot just 33 percent.
California threatened on numerous occasions to run away in the first half thanks to a dominant 24-12 advantage on points in the paint and 13 offensive rebounds. Washington tried to collapse its defense around Brandon and Caldwell, but that left Clarendon open on the perimeter. She knocked down a pair of 3-pointers as part of a personal seven-point spurt midway through the half as the Bears led by as many as 19.
Washington closed within 41-34 after Kristi Kingma’s 3 and a free throw from Davis early in the second half, the closest the Huskies had been since California led 15-9. Washington then went scoreless on its next four possessions, while Caldwell and Brandon combined for eight straight points to push the Bears lead back to 15 with 14 minutes left.
Davis and freshman Talia Walton were both suspended for Thursday’s loss to No. 4 Stanford, and the Huskies will enter the conference tournament looking to save their NCAA tournament hopes. Kingma added 10 for Washington, but Walton was just 1 of 12 shooting and finished with three points.
“It’s really tough to watch a team celebrate on your home court,” Kingma said. “It just reminds you that you’re not doing that.”