Ron Agostini

Walker was 'sick' in Cal's easy win

STANFORD -- Ashley Walker was told she was anemic last week. Not by her demanding coach. Not by her best friend. Not by her most recent opponent.

By her doctor.

The University of San Diego will think it was some type of weak joke, for sure, after what Walker did to the Toreros on Saturday. Indeed, she was sick, as in,"She was SO sick."

Sick enough to escort the No. 3-seeded Golden Bears to their first NCAA Tournament victory in 15 years. For the Bears' sake, may Walker stay anemic.

The graduate of Grace Davis stamped her name on this game from the opening tip -- which she won -- until her exit with eight minutes left. By then, Cal's 77-60 win was history, an important part of Cal history.

"We just got back to the basics and the things I do well. We just wanted to come out here and show who we really are," Walker said.

Her smile creased her face as she said these words. The last two weeks have not been easy on her or her team. Expectations were heaped on the Bears (27-6) and, until the NCAA's first round, had gone unmet.

Losing to Washington on the final day of the regular season, burping to Stanford what would have been Cal's first Pacific-10 Conference title.

Losing 56-35 to Stanford (for the third time) in the Pac-10 tournament final, a game thoroughly not close. Walker's line that long day: two points, seven rebounds and precious little life in her legs after three games in three days.

And here was her response 10 days later on the Farm: 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting and 5-of-5 free throws, 12 rebounds, six assists and three steals.

Anemic? Right, San Diego snarls.

The first time down the floor, the 6-foot-1 Walker drove, lowered her left shoulder and scored with confidence over San Diego's 6-foot-5 center Amber Sprague. Moments later, the Modestan pulled down a tough rebound and muscled the ball home over two defenders. Then she intercepted a pass and fed Lauren Greif for a jump shot and a 14-2 Cal lead.

Put it another way: With less than five minutes still left in the half, Walker already had annexed her 34th career double-double. The last word you would have considered, after watching her game-opening run, was "anemia."

Then again, the persistent cramping in her legs the last two months required a closer look. Fatigue became her most demanding opponent. She was fed an IV before each game of the Pac-10 tournament.

"It got to the point," Walker said, "where I almost had to force myself to play through it."

As you might have guessed, she had no energy problems Saturday.

"They (the doctors) caught it. They've done a lot. They gave me a new iron pill and a lot of preventative stuff," she said. "It's all working."

Devanei Hampton, Walker's 6-3 companion in the paint, also dented the Toreros with 22 points. It marked the first time Hampton and Walker both scored more than 20 points in a game this season. When Cal's Big Two clicks, it wins.

"Dev is physical in the low block and demands the ball. She's a 3-point play kind of player," Cal coach Joanne Boyle said. "Ashley is more slithery and old-school and hard to match up with. She's guard-like with post moves and quick to the ball."

Translation: Hampton flashes skills. Walker wins with strength and finishes plays with touch. Cal outscored San Diego by 17 points during Walker's minutes. Check the final score for further validation.

"It's hard to double-team us in general," Walker said, "unless you're Jayne or Kayla."

For the uninitiated, that would be 6-4 Jayne Appel and 6-4 Kayla Pedersen, the Stanford pair who know how to frustrate the Cal tandem.

Which brings to mind a scene during the second half of Cal's victory. There, standing near the south baseline, was Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer huddling with George Washington coach Joe McKeown. We'll assume they weren't discussing restaurant options in Palo Alto.

George Washington, seeded No. 6 after consecutive trips to the Sweet 16, is Cal's foe Monday night. Stanford's fortress of a front line that haunted Hampton and Walker all season. In fact, VanDerVeer assigned about half of Stanford's student body against the Bears' duo and dared the Cal guards to beat her. The strategy harvested all three Stanford wins.

By the way, McKeown's Colonials are equipped with experienced guards and bigger bodies than Hampton and Walker. Worse for Cal, it may have lost the services of 6-5 reserve Rama N'diaye, who incurred what could be a serious knee injury while she dove for a loose ball midway through the second half. Conclusion: At least a portion of GW's game plan will feature a Stanford-like clampdown on the Cal stars.

"I'm satisfied, but not completely satisfied," Walker said. "I'm looking forward to a great game. It's going to be great basketball for the rest of the month."

Wishful thinking there, with no anemia in the forecast.

Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or 578-2302.

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