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Gaines' free-throws seal deal against California

3/18/2007

PITTSBURGH -- Notre Dame had green uniforms, green
fingernails and one of the greenest lineups in the NCAA Tournament. By the end of a tightly played game that tested the
inexperienced Fighting Irish's nerves and composure, they looked
liked veterans.

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 for a 62-59 victory over
California in the NCAA Tournament Sunday.

The eighth-seeded Irish (20-11) relied on Allen's 13 points and
Melissa Lechlitner's 12 to advance to a second-round game Tuesday
in the Dallas Regional against top-seeded North Carolina (31-3),
also in Pittsburgh.

The Irish reached the second round for the 11th time in 12 years
despite having only two seniors -- a lack of experience that led to
them being picked to finish 11th in the Big East. Maybe it was
fitting they painted their fingernails green, a tradition any time
the Irish play on or near St. Patrick's Day, and wore green
uniforms for the first time since last year's NCAA Tournament.

"A lot of people didn't think we'd make it to the NCAA
Tournament because we lost some leadership from last year, but we
overcame that and played really hard," senior Breona Gray said.
"We're glad we have another day to play."

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-of-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).

"The game was tough, very intense because we haven't really
played two post players like that," Notre Dame freshman Erica
Williamson said. "It was a struggle for our team."

But after Walker missed two free throws, Crystal Erwin scored on
a feed in the lane from Allen, and Allen then scored herself after
Ashley Barlow's steal to make it 56-51.

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, one of the Irish's four freshmen, gave the Bears
another chance by missing the front end of a one-and-one with 31
seconds to go. But Hampton dribbled the ball out of bounds off her
foot with 19 seconds remaining, and Gaines took advantage 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. The noon
start also couldn't have helped the Golden Bears, who looked to
still be on Pacific time in their first game in two weeks.

"I was thinking there was so much excitement in the locker
room, I was afraid we were too loose," coach Muffet McGraw said.
"We were almost giddy for getting to the tournament. This is the
way this team's been with the freshmen because everything's new to
them."

What helped the Irish was the 6-foot-3 Hampton -- the Pac-10
player of the year -- getting into foul trouble and having to sit
out 12 minutes in the first half. She drew her third foul with
about 5½ minutes remaining, shortly after returning.

"It was frustrating," Hampton said. "Coach said we should
just play, you know, physical. I don't know."

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.

"Were we scared? Were we intimidated? Were we tentative? I
don't know," Cal coach Joanne Boyle said. "We put ourselves in a
situation this year against a couple of teams and we've come from
behind and we've been able to pull games out."

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