Missed chances haunt Bears in Pac-12 opener loss to UCLA

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Throughout the post-game interview, Cal women’s basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb was unusually terse with her words and deadpan in her expressions.

It was an unusual sight to see the talkative, animated coach in such manners, but after a performance like Thursday’s, it was not hard to see why.

In a game filled with turnovers and missed shots, the Bears (9-4) played their worst game of the season, yet hung on until the last minute with UCLA. The Bruins (6-6) too had a subpar game as a whole, but due to the clutch shooting of guard Thea Lemberger in the last minutes, they walked out of the John Wooden Center with a 60-55 victory.

After a successful nonconference campaign that had Cal on the cusp of a top 25 rankings, Gottlieb and her crew looked poised to have a great start to their conference play. The Bears wanted to start off the Pac-12 season like they did every game, with fast pace and chipping off points from their post players down deep.

But from the first possession of the game, perhaps Cal started too fast, too reckless. Eleven seconds into the game, forward Gennifer Brandon chalked up the first turnover for the Bears. Twenty minutes later, Cal had 14, and at the end of the game, it recorded 21 turnovers.

“We always want to play fast, but we got careless with our decisions,” Gottlieb said.

The Bears’ turnovers weren’t as detrimental as the simple truth that Cal couldn’t shoot the ball. The Bears shot just under 30 percent from the field, a majority of which were attempted just a few feet under the basket.

Despite the multitude of second chances provided by its 30 offensive rebounds, Cal just couldn’t find the shooting touch from any of its players.

“We had 21 more shots, 30 offensive rebounds. If you have that much shots, you got to win the game,” Gottlieb said.

Added UCLA coach Cori Close: “If you told me yesterday that we would be outrebounded and Cal will have 30 offensive rebounds and we would win, I would’ve said you are crazy.”

While Cal struggled to find one consistent shooter — Brandon had a team-high 17 points but on 6-for-19 shooting — the Bruins found two. Guards Markel Walker and Lemberger finished with 44 of the 60 points. Lemberger, who momentarily left the game with a cramp, iced the game when she hit a 3-pointer with 44 seconds left to give the Bruins a four-point lead.

From now until Saturday’s 11 a.m. matchup against USC, the Bears have not looked more vulnerable this season. But Gottlieb and her team are looking at the big conference picture right now. They hope to see Thursday’s contest as a just a small, fluky blip compared to their 17 remaining conference matches.

“That’s the beauty of a long conference season,” Gottlieb said. “You just have to get up and play it again. We are not creating new offenses and defenses; we just need to be a better version of Cal basketball.”