WACO, Texas -- The LSU women's basketball team fell to the California Golden Bears, 55-52, here at the Ferrell Center on Baylor's campus in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday evening.
LSU closed out its season with a 20-12 record and Cal will face No. 1 seed Baylor (32-3) on Monday for the right to advance to the Oklahoma City Regional. Baylor defeated 16-seed Texas Southern, 119-30, earlier on Saturday.
"I can't express enough how important these two ladies sitting up here (Raigyne Moncrief and Alexis Hyder) are to the success of this LSU program," said head coach Nikki Fargas. "We are going to have Raigyne Moncrief back next year but Alexis Hyder is one of the toughest, undersized, versatile post players in the game and I am proud to be her coach. Rina Hill, our other senior, is one of the hardest working players I have ever coached and been around. And Jasmine Rhodes, our other senior, will be missed for her versatility. We are an undersized team but a team with a big heart."
In a complete team effort, the Lady Tigers had four starters score 10 points, including Chloe Jackson, Raigyne Moncrief, Alexis Hyder and Rina Hill.
Hyder added 12 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal, recording her fourth double-double of the season. The senior finished her career with 14 double-doubles at LSU.
Hill scored in double digits for the first time since Jan. 12 against Missouri, adding two assists and two steals, while Moncrief and Jackson overcame a cold first half to combine for 20 points. Hill kept the game close with two treys in the first half. Moncrief extended her double-digit scoring streak to 16 games.
Ayana Mitchell added eight points, eight rebounds and two steals.
California's leading scorer was Asha Thomas, who scored 18 points entirely off of 6-for-9 shooting from three-point range. Kristine Anigwe pitched in 15 points, seven rebounds and five blocks.
"I give Cal their credit," said Fargas. "They did what they needed to do. I thought (Asha) Thomas had an unbelievable night from the three-point line and we missed some of our defensive coverages, but the fight we had in us to really get them turned over 20-plus times and get the rebounds against a team that was taller than us. I commend our team for having the heart and the fight. It's been a journey for us, but this group has been pretty special."
The Golden Bears got off to a quick 13-4 start as the Lady Tigers struggled to get anything going offensively outside of two long-range jump shots from Hyder. Despite the slow offensive start, LSU stayed true to the defensive tenacity they've shown all season, forcing six first-quarter turnovers. However, the Lady Tigers couldn't find a way to stop the Golden Bears' hot three-point shooting as the first quarter concluded with an 18-9 advantage in favor of California.
LSU traded baskets with California more evenly to start the second quarter, as Hill drained just her fourth three-pointer of the season to pull the Lady Tigers to within seven, but Thomas answered with two three-pointers of her own. LSU's defense kept them in the game as the Lady Tigers held the Golden Bears scoreless in the second quarter for two separate stretches of over two-and-a-half minutes. With just under three minutes remaining and down by eight, Hill buried yet another three-point attempt, which was countered by Thomas's fourth three-pointer of the first half.
LSU's two leading scorers in Moncrief and Jackson went a combined 0-13 from the field in the first half, but Moncrief gave the Lady Tigers a momentum boost with a tremendous hustle play, flying down the lane to collect a missed jumper before dishing a behind-the-back pass to Hyder who finished with a layup for the final field goal of the first half. The two teams went into the locker rooms with LSU trailing 31-25 after a second quarter in which they outscored California 16-13.
Hill opened the second half scoring to cut California's lead to four for the first time since 7:10 remaining in the first quarter. Following two consecutive baskets from the Golden Bears, Moncrief finally ended her scoring drought with a pull-up jumper that preceded a two-minutes period where neither team scored. With just over five minutes remaining in the third, Mitchell got on the board for the Lady Tigers and Moncrief followed with a streaking layup off of a steal to cut the lead to two.
Thomas once again cooled off the LSU run with her fifth three-pointer of the game, however Moncrief continued to put her scoring drought behind her and answered with another quick basket for the Lady Tigers. Jackson followed suit, rattling off four straight points to tie the game at 39 apiece to cap off a 12-4 LSU run. Two free throws from Anigwe closed out the third quarter as the Golden Bears held a narrow 41-39 lead over LSU despite being outscored by the Lady Tigers for the second quarter in a row.
Jackson extended her torrid shooting stretch, scoring four of LSU's first six points to start the fourth quarter as both teams continued to go back and forth. The Golden Bears then went on a 7-1 run to give them a 50-46 lead before Hyder energized the Lady Tigers with a forceful rebound and full-court pass to Mitchell, who was fouled on her way up and converted one of two free throws to cut the lead back to three. With just under four minutes remaining, Moncrief picked off California's Mikayla Cowling at midcourt for her first steal of the game and converted a free throw after she was fouled. Down by two, Hyder fed Mitchell in the paint to tie the game.
After being held scoreless for more than four minutes, the Golden Bears regained the lead courtesy of yet another Thomas three-pointer to give California a 53-50 lead with 1:11 left in the game. Jackson kept LSU alive with a deep two-point jump shot with just under a minute remaining. Following a California possession that resulted in an on-the-floor foul on LSU, the Golden Bears were called for a five-second violation after failing to inbound the ball, giving LSU possession with 32 seconds remaining. Hyder was fouled hard at the other end, giving LSU another opportunity to inbound the ball, but Hyder failed to convert under the basket and California ended up with the ball with eight seconds on the clock. LSU quickly fouled Anigwe, who sank both of her free throws to increase the California lead to 55-52. LSU went the length of the court and Moncrief heaved up a desperation three that hit the front of the rim as time expired.
Despite their usual stellar defense, forcing 20 turnovers and scoring 17 points off of turnovers, the Lady Tigers shot just 33 percent from the field and 57 percent from the free throw line while California shot 44 percent from the field, including a 7-of-18 performance from long distance. Both teams were evenly matched in the paint as California narrowly edged out LSU 24-20 in paint scoring and both teams pulled down 35 rebounds each.