Georgia, California vie for Women’s Final Four bid

Georgia coach Andy Landers talks with his players during a brief break against Stanford late in the second half of a regional semifinal in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Spokane, Wash. From left are Jasmine James, Anne Marie Armstrong, Jasmine Hassell, Tiaria Griffin and Shacobia Barbee. Georgia won 61-59. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) Show caption
Georgia coach Andy Landers talks with his players during a brief break against Stanford late in the second half of a regional semifinal in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Spokane, Wash. From left are Jasmine James, Anne Marie Armstrong, Jasmine Hassell, Tiaria Griffin and Shacobia Barbee. Georgia won 61-59. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

SPOKANE, Wash. — Andy Landers pulled no punches. The Georgia coach never does.

Georgia women’s basketball, in his estimation, was broken. Not shattered — the Lady Bulldogs were still reaching the NCAA tournament every year and occasionally making a run.

But nothing as deep as Georgia’s five Women’s Final Fours, the most recent one in 1999, or its previous trip to the Elite Eight against LSU in 2004.

That began to change when his current seniors were freshmen. And that team will square off with California in Monday’s Spokane Regional final.

“When you let something big get down on its knees — and Georgia basketball to us is big — it’s hard to get that giant back up,” Landers said Sunday. “I knew it was going to be hard.”

Hard is derailing Stanford, the top seed in the Spokane Regional. But that’s what Georgia did Saturday night, eliminating the mighty Cardinal 61-59.

Of course, the challenge of beating Cal, which split with Stanford and shared the Pac-12 regular-season title with the Cardinal, won’t be easy.

“They bring it,” Landers said. “They’ve got the athleticism, they’re high energy, they’re going to play hard. They’re good in transition, they’re very good in the halfcourt. They’ve got all the parts.”

Tip off is set for 8:30 p.m. CDT on ESPN at Spokane Arena between No. 2 seed Cal (31-3) and No. 4 Georgia (28-6). The winner punches a ticket to the Women’s Final Four next week at New Orleans Arena.

The Golden Bears shook loose from a close game with LSU for the first 30 minutes late Saturday night, using their transition game to run out to a 17-point lead before settling on a 73-63 margin of victory.

It was a historic victory for Cal, which had never been to the Elite Eight. The Bears reveled in the moment.

“We’re a team that celebrates everything,” star guard Layshia Clarendon said. She had 19 points against LSU, 17 in the decisive second half. “Like lunch. Or like shootaround. We got smoothies on the way here (Sunday) and we were like, ‘Yeah.’ We’re a grateful, upbeat, thankful team.”

And surprisingly physical. Gennifer Brandon, Cal’s 6-foot-2 junior forward, pounded on LSU inside, coming away with 17 points and a game-high 13 rebounds for a Cal team that ranks third nationally with a plus-11.3 rebounding margin.

“A lot of people mentioned LSU’s physicality and Georgia’s, but we bring a lot to the table physically,” Clarendon said. “Gennifer Brandon snatching a rebound is like, ‘You better move out of the way, or you’re getting your head taken off.’ ”

Georgia will counter with its senior frontcourt of 6-2 Jasmine Hassell (12.9 points, 6.2 rebounds) and 6-3 senior Anne Marie Armstrong (7.1, 5.1). Senior guard Jasmine James (11.0, 3.5) patrols the backcourt.

“It’s going to be a battle,” James said. “They rebound the ball very well. We have to focus on rebounding and trying to contain them because they are very athletic.”

Cal will try to become the first Pac-12 team besides Stanford or Southern Cal to reach the Final Four. Georgia and Kentucky, which plays Connecticut at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the Bridgeport Regional final, will try to become the first Southeastern Conference teams to get there since LSU and Tennessee in 2008.

It’s the longest drought for the SEC. Before that, the only Final Fours without an SEC team were 1992 and 2001.