In Sunday’s 59-50 victory against No. 22 Virginia at Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, the Cal women’s basketball team’s biggest matchup was not about the players but rather on the sidelines.
After a mediocre 18-16 record last season, former Bears coach Joanne Boyle took the vacant head coaching job with the Cavaliers. When former assistant coach Lindsay Gottlieb succeeded Boyle, the Cal-Virginia matchup was long anticipated before the start of the season.
Scheduled to play three games in three nights, the Bears (4-2) came into its last contest with its record tied, 1-1. After cruising past Hawaii on Friday, 69-54, Cal fell just short against No. 24 Texas the next day, 61-60. Although the Bears were outplaying the Longhorns from the start, they led the lead slip away at the very last minute.
“This is not how you lose a game,” Gottlieb said after the Saturday night loss. “It would be a totally different style of play (tomorrow).”
While Cal struggled against Texas’ zone defense in the second half, it was an opposite story against the Cavaliers’ trapping zones. After starting the game to a 7-7 tie, guard Layshia Clarendon sparked a 7-0 run with two 3-pointers.
“When you make your first shot, you are always like, ‘It’s going to be a good night,’” Clarendon said. “They can’t sit in that zone. They had to start coming out, so our bigs started to get open.”
Clarendon’s play created early opportunities for the post players. Leading 19-11, center Justine Hartman finished two consecutive mid-range jumpers. Hartman finished the game with 12 points and three rebounds.
As Hartman controlled the space around the rim, the Bears went back to their distance shooters in Clarendon and guard Lindsay Sherbert to widen the gap. With a minute and a half left in the half remaining, Sherbert drained a 3-pointer to increase the lead to 28-16.
The second half, for a while, looked eerily like a replay of the Texas game the previous night. After going into the locker room, 30-18, the Bears saw their lead dwindle down to one, leading 42-41 with 6:33 left on the clock.
Then Cal went back to basics, as the guards created space for players like Hartman and forward Gennifer Brandon to manufacture points from inside the paint. Hartman and Brandon took shots back and forth to bolster the threadlike lead back to nine with two minutes left on the clock.
“We called a timeout and I said, ‘Hey, we have to win this,” Gottlieb said. “It was just a matter of looking our players in the eye and saying, ‘We’re winning this game. We’re alright. Don’t panic.’ I thought the players really responded.”
As the Bears’ first win against a ranked opponent since the 2009 season, Sunday’s win was a confidence booster, especially for the freshmen. But with the win being overshadowed by the tagline of Gottlieb defeating her former mentor, Cal’s first-year coach wanted to clarify that there was no bad blood between these two coaches.
“For me, personally, I wouldn’t be where I am and have this job that I love without Joanne Boyle,” Gottlieb said.