Just three-tenths of a second separated the Cal women's basketball team from yet another early tournament exit, and the third loss in the Bears' final five games—tragedy for a team that had already dropped to what looked like a four seed in the NCAA tournament, with the possibility of falling even farther.
But as Lauren Greif's lob from mid-court found its way into the hands of a soaring Ashley Walker for a game-tying bucket that would eventually be called off, things began looking up for the first time in three weeks.
Now, nobody wants to lose, especially in such a fashion as occurred in Los Angeles on Saturday. But for Cal, its controversial shortcoming against USC may actually help the Bears in the long run.
What if Walker's shot would have counted and Cal went on to advance to the Pac-10 title game?
In terms of NCAA seeding, nothing.
Cal would have notched a lackluster win against a team the Bears were expected to beat, especially with the Women of Troy's top post threat – Nadia Parker – out of commission.
With the unimpressive overtime victory – in which Cal shot below 40% from the field – Joanne Boyle's squad would have remained a four while drawing the Pac-10's toughest out in conference tournament play: Stanford.
I don't have to tell you how ugly Sunday night's finale could have been. With the Cardinal – which had won its last six Pac-10 tournament games by an average of 26.5 points – so fresh (Jayne Appel and Kayla Pedersen combined for just 25 minutes in the Stanford's semi-final win against UCLA), and the Bears coming off of an extra five-minute dogfight.
So which looks better?
A contentious two-point loss to USC at the Galen Center, or a narrow win followed by, well, you can figure it out. The Bears were given an excuse to rest, and because of the controversy, it cost them nothing.
Cal still ended up with its four seed (it's debatable whether a big loss to Stanford would have dropped the Bears even more), while getting a pass on another 40 minutes of action.
Even more, though, the loss provided a spark for a Cal team that looked like it was slipping away into obscurity.
There was a noticeable difference between the Bears that fell to USC, and the Cal team that lost back-to-back games to UCLA and Arizona State. This one actually looked it mattered.
As Devanei Hampton threw her towel the way of the officials as they scurried off the floor following their interpretation of a tip, she was showing the passion that hadn't been there two weeks before.
When Walker and Alexis Gray-Lawson slammed down on the bench and put their faces between their hands, they were showing the emotion that was nowhere to be found in Westwood.
Believe it or not, in this case, the Bears' loss was their own gain.
©Copyright 2009, CalSportsDigest.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.