Bears douse Big Green in blistering victory

Cal was in the midst of a dry spell.

A little more than halfway through the first half, the women’s basketball team wasn’t connecting with shots. Aside from a free throw from freshman Brittany Boyd, the Bears (9-3) hadn’t scored in four minutes. Meanwhile, Dartmouth (2-8) scored six unanswered to round the score up to 16-10 midway through the half.

Then Afure Jemerigbe nailed the first 3-pointer of the game to give Cal a quick boost. The sophomore led the team with 15 points in the Bears’ 80-39 win on Tuesday at Haas Pavilion.

“Tonight you just saw what she is capable of,” coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “She scored a bunch of points, and I thought she did it under control and she had a lot of confidence.”

A steal by Eliza Pierre moments later sent the ball hurtling down to Big Green territory for a shot that sailed wide. But the missed shots no longer stung so harshly; the Bears were back in control and well on their way to capturing the win by their largest margin of the season.

A formula kept resurfacing throughout the opening period: while Cal never came close to giving up a lead, the team also seemed to be slowly warming up to intensity.

“I thought we were able to play at a pace and make them uncomfortable without losing our comfort zone,” Gottlieb said. “There are always things we can get better at.”

The Bears are a second-half team, as evidenced in last weekend’s 11th-hour drive that almost toppled No. 12 Ohio State last weekend. If Cal can afford it, it will spend the first half feeling for a rhythm before breaking away in the next 20 minutes.

Faced with the Big Green’s abysmal record, the Bears could afford a little disconnect at first. While junior Talia Caldwell racked up 10 rebounds (four offensive) in the contest, her teammates couldn’t capitalize on her Velcro hands and finish off the boards.

“We were kind of crowded and we missed some point blank (shots),” Gottlieb said. “We just didn’t finish as well as we can. We were a little ragged at times.”

But Jemerigbe’s fadeaway beyond the arc switched the rhythm. Suddenly the Bears doused their own dry spell in fuel and watched it go up in flames. A 20-point run left them virtually untouchable. Dartmouth only got one more shot in before the half closed, 39-13.

The second half was simply a continuation of Cal’s blistering pace. The Bears continued to press on defense, making it nearly impossible for the Big Green to get inside the paint. Led by Pierre’s team-high four steals, the guards also forced an insanely high 29 turnovers and grabbed 33 points off those. Offensively, Cal honed its breakneck speed, earning 30 points on breakaways.

“We talked about playing fast on offense, but also doing that with discipline,” Gottlieb said. “I thought we did a really nice job of forcing turnovers, and at the same time, not turning the ball over ourselves.”