SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- It was a relatively short stretch -- just 6 minutes and 20 seconds to be exact -- but it was enough to bury Cal's NCAA tournament hopes Tuesday.
The Golden Bears paid for a series of sloppy passes and turnovers as a two-point second half deficit to Notre Dame ballooned to 17 as the hosts rolled from there to a 73-62 NCAA regional second-round victory.
"They didn't just steal the ball, we also threw it to them a number of times," junior guard Layshia Clarendon said. "Almost everyone on the court had one turnover at that time. It was a learning experience. We had to work to keep our composure while they stayed steady the whole time."
But the scrappy Golden Bears (25-10) also didn't fold. They scrambled back to trim the Irish lead to single digits in the late going.
That's the kind of effort Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said she's seen all season.
"I'm so happy and proud to be coach of this California team, even though we're going home," she said. "I thought our players showed on a national stage tonight what I've known all year: that we have a lot of different weapons, we play really hard and we won't back down."
Irish guard Natalie Novosel scored 28 points -- including 18 for 20 on free throws -- while Skylar Diggins collected 21. Forward Devereaux Peters added 11 points and a game-high 14 rebounds.
Cal was led by Clarendon's 17 points. Reshanda Gray added 15 while Gennifer Brandon had nine points and 12 rebounds.
After a 31-31 halftime tie, Notre Dame's increased pressure turned the game around.
"I was just so pleased with what went on in the second half," Irish coach Muffett McGraw said. "I thought we ratcheted up the intensity of our defense, played a little more man-to-man and we were (also) able to attack the basket."
Cal had an early lead, but a 9-2 Notre Dame run opened a 13-9 advantage by the 13:45 mark. The Golden Bears missed three straight field goal attempts but a Gray jumper at 12:35 broke the slump and they went on to force four ties down the first-half stretch.
And they briefly reclaimed the lead at 31-29 on a Gray jumper in the final minute. But Novosel forced a 31-31 deadlock with a jumper with 29 seconds showing to close the half with a game-high 17 points.
Notre Dame's big second half effort opened a 54-37 advantage -- the largest of the game -- with 12:17 to play.
The top-seeded Irish (32-3) head to Raleigh, N.C., and a Sweet 16 matchup with St. Bonaventure on Sunday.
And while Golden Bears returned home, they're also a good bet for another great run with the entire roster returning for 2012-13.
"It's a unique thing to have had this experience and have everybody coming back," Gottlieb said. "It'll help our players to understand where they want to be and the work it takes to get back to this spot and exceed it."