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California guard Layshia Clarendon yells during team practice for a second-round game in the women's NCAA college basketball tournament in Lubbock, Texas, Sunday, March 24, 2013. California is to play South Florida on Monday. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

shammon@bayareanewsgroup.com

LUBBOCK, Texas -- Layshia Clarendon stands out on the basketball court, and not just because of her curly blond Mohawk.

The Cal women's basketball team has multiple weapons, from its dynamic point guard to its dominant post players. But no one has been as reliable or consistent as Clarendon, a 5-foot-9 senior combo guard from San Bernardino.

"She's had an All-American season, and that's what we needed," Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. "We have a lot of great players, but Layshia has emerged as the person to hit the big shot when we need it, to steady us when we need it, to make the big play on defense."

A complete player on the court and leader in the locker room, Clarendon is focused on finishing up her Cal career with a deep run in the NCAA tournament. The No. 2-seeded Bears continue their postseason run against No. 10 South Florida on Monday at 6:30 p.m. in Lubbock, Texas, with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line.

Clarendon, a two-time Pac-12 all-conference selection who averages a team-best 15.7 points per game, does a lot of things well for a squad that's been ranked in the top 10 nationally much of the year. She can shoot the 3-pointer, get to the rim, handle the ball and defend. She's a calming presence and someone Gottlieb says she can count on to make the right decision when the game is on the line.


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But what sets Clarendon apart from her peers -- and why she'll likely go on to a professional career after graduating this spring -- is the midrange game she developed by playing hours of backyard one-on-one with her cousin growing up.

"I think she has the best midrange game maybe in the country," Gottlieb said.

What Clarendon does off the court is just as important for the Bears.

The Pac-12 Scholar Athlete of the Year and a finalist for the Lowe's Senior CLASS award, Clarendon has set a good example for her teammates since her freshman year. This season, she's made a more concerted effort to lead with her voice, too.

"I've always been pushed into that leadership role reluctantly, but I've learned to embrace it," said Clarendon, who has started all but nine games in her Cal career. "I've always led with how I play, how hard I go, more of a lead by example kind of person. But I've really had to step it up (vocally)."

Over the summer, she took Brittany Boyd under her wing. The sophomore point guard says Clarendon helped her understand the college game better, as well as how much work she needed to put in.

"She pushed me to my limit, I didn't really know I could go that far," Boyd said.

A Cal loss would be Clarendon's last game as a Bear. Though Cal is thought to be a potential Final Four team, it's not letting the expectations or pressure get to it.

"We still weren't a No. 1 seed; we're still not picked to win the national championship, so we still have a lot to prove," Clarendon said. "We are still very humble and hungry and still on the prowl for sure."

Monday's game

Cal (29-3) vs. South Florida (22-10) at Lubbock, Texas, 6:30 p.m. ESPN2