Notre Dame 62, California 59

Sunday, March 18th 2007, 2:24 pm
By: News On 6

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Tulyah Gaines made two free throws with 16.5 seconds remaining after Notre Dame's Charel Allen scored a key basket and set up another, and the Fighting Irish rallied to a 62-59 victory over California in the NCAA women's tournament Sunday.

The eighth-seeded Irish (20-11), making their 12th consecutive tournament appearance, relied on Allen's 13 points and Melissa Lechlitner's 12 to move on to a second-round game Tuesday in the Dallas Regional against the North Carolina-Prairie View A&M winner later Sunday.

Allen, a former Pittsburgh area high school star playing before a contingent of hometown fans, had an uneven game. She missed 10 shots on 6-16 shooting, turned the ball over four times and did little offensively for a long stretch of the second half as Cal (23-9) rallied from a 36-25 deficit to take four separate leads. Almost all the Bears' offense came from sophomore inside players Ashley Walker (20 points) and Devanei Hampton (13 points).

But after Walker missed two free throws, Crystal Erwin scored as Allen drove the lane before dumping the ball inside for a layup, and Allen then scored herself after Ashley Barlow's steal to make it 56-51.

Erica Williamson scored from the lane to up the Irish's lead to seven points, but the Bears had one more comeback left in them. Lauren Greif hit a 3-pointer and Natasha Vital scored on a four-player fast break _ Walker went down at midcourt with a knee injury on the play _ to cut it to 58-56. Walker was not seriously hurt and returned after a timeout.

Lechlitner gave the Bears another chance by missing the front end of a 1-1 with 31 seconds to go. But Hampton dribbled the ball out of bounds off her foot with 19 seconds remaining, and Gaines took advantage of the turnover by making her two free throws.

Greif made three free throws after unwisely being fouled on a 3-point attempt with seven seconds remaining, but the Irish dribbled the clock down to a half-second remaining. Lechlitner then made two more free throws to seal it and end Notre Dame's three-game losing streak.

The Irish played at the Petersen Events Center earlier this season _ a 71-62 loss to Pitt on Jan. 31 _ and they clearly looked more comfortable at the start in opening a 12-2 lead within 3 1/2 minutes in a matchup of teams that hadn't played in two weeks. The noon start also couldn't have helped the Golden Bears, who looked to still be on Pacific time.

Even worse for the Bears, the 6-foot-3 Hampton _ the Pac-10 player of the year _ quickly got into foul trouble and had to sit out 12 minutes in the first half, drawing her third foul with about 5 1/2 minutes remaining.

The 6-1 Walker, Cal's other strong sophomore inside player, kept the Bears from getting too far down by going 10-of-10 from the foul line and scoring 12 of their 23 first-half points as the Irish led 32-23 at halftime.

With the physical Hampton and Walker back together, the Bears began limiting the Irish to one shot at the offensive end while going on a 12-4 run keyed by Walker's eight points to close to within 40-37. Cal finally tied it on Hampton's free throw with 10:35 remaining and took its first lead less than a minute later at 46-45 on Krista Foster's 3-pointer.

California is 1-5 in NCAA play and hasn't won since beating Kansas in 1993.