Forward Gennifer Brandon is a rebounding machine. It is no surprise to see Brandon chalking up double-digit rebounds nearly every game, outjumping all other players and snatching any missed shots around her circumference.
But even the redshirt sophomore could not have foreseen the type of performance she had on Saturday against No. 12 Ohio State. Despite the Cal women’s basketball team (8-3) losing narrowly, 77-75, to the Buckeyes, Brandon stole the highly anticipated show at Haas Pavilion, tallying 24 points and 24 rebounds. Brandon was only two rebounds away from tying the Cal rebound record.
But unfortunately for the Bears, there was a huge gap between Brandon and her teammates. The rest of her team played somewhere between average and subpar, and for the entire game Cal had to chase Ohio State (10-0) from behind. Despite the late push by the Bears in the last three minutes to cut the deficit to two points, they failed to score in their last possession to tie the game.
“I think it was a litmus test that told us that we are not quite there yet, not quite where we want to be,” Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said.
The game started in favor of Cal, increasing the lead to as many as five points when center Talia Caldwell finished her layup with 14:17 left in the first half. For most of the half, it was Caldwell, not Brandon, that had the hot hand with 10 points.
But the thin, five-point lead evaporated in a minute, as the Buckeyes went on a 13-3 run to regain the lead. Ohio State never lost their lead again from that point on, .
Despite just a five-point halftime deficit, the Bears started the second half with three turnovers. The first five to 10 minutes of the second half has been an Achilles’ heel for Cal throughout the season, as the Bears routinely come out of the locker room without the same intensity and concentration. It was no different against the Buckeyes, and in the first five minutes, the Buckeyes ballooned their lead up to 14 points.
After burying themselves to a steeper uphill battle, Cal couldn’t close the deficit until dying minutes of the contest. Down 74-62 with three and a half minutes left, Brandon and guard Eliza Pierre made back-to-back shots to spark a 13-3 run. With the Bears chiseling away the lead through free throws, the Bears were down 77-72 with a minute left.
By far the dominant player on the court, Brandon made her biggest statement of the afternoon when she finished a three-point play to cut the lead to two with 42 seconds on the clock. After a blocked shot by Buckeyes’ Tayler Hill, the Bears repossessed the ball with the time ticking down.
Although Cal gave the ball to red-hot Brandon for the big play, Brandon took an ncharacteristically far shot with five seconds left. Although Reshanda Gray grabbed the rebound, her shot attempt nea the free throw line bounced around the rim to no avail as the buzzer sounded.
Like in their two other losses to No. 11 Rutgers and No. 24 Texas, the Bears hung on with a better team until the very last second. Despite the grit Cal showed on Saturday, Gottlieb and her team know they are not at the level of Ohio State yet.
“We want to be where Ohio State is and where other teams are now. We are not quite there yet, but it does feel good to know that is within reach,” Gottlieb said.