First-half comeback unable to secure win for Bears in 74-54 rout

The rally started quietly on a layup by Brittany Boyd. With nine minutes left in the first half, the freshman’s shot shaved two points off USC’s comfortable 16-point lead.

In Saturday’s Los Angeles matinee the Cal women’s basketball team could have stopped after Boyd’s sinker or haltingly stumbled through droughts as they had for the last 11 minutes. The final score, a 74-54 blowout at the feet of the Trojans, reflects an embarrassing defeat to a team that finally broke even on the season. If nothing else, final stats (among them a dismal 26.8 shooting percentage) reflect the widest loss of the season for a disjointed, dismantled Cal squad (9-5, 0-2 Pac-12).

“Collectively, we understand we came down to L.A. and we got beat,” coach Linsday Gottlieb said. “I credit USC; they came out here, and they outplayed us. They did what they needed to get the win, and we didn’t.”

But buried beneath the final score was a rally that gave the Bears a second, if unfulfilled, chance at the game.

Boyd’s layup was not a spectacular or flashy jolt, but it was the spark her team desperately needed. Suddenly, juniors Talia Caldwell and Gennifer Brandon were snatching rebounds on both ends of the court; assists to the posts created a game-total 30 points inside the paint. Based on stats alone, the Bears were still suffering, sinking less than a third of their field goals.

“Our biggest concern is our ability to score the basketball,” Gottlieb said. “We know they have players that can make shots. It puts so much pressure on if we can’t put the ball in the basket.”

But the scoreboard told a different story, one in which Cal continued to chip away at the Trojans’ lead. In the time that Cal put up 18 points, USC (6-6, 1-1 Pac-12) could only muster eight. When the halftime buzzer sounded, Cal had utterly eviscerated an untouchable chasm to a shaky 31-28 score.

Two minutes into the second half, the Bears gained the upper hand, 33-32, off shots from Caldwell and Boyd.

It was the team’s first and only lead of the game.

Twenty seconds later, USC’s Ashley Corral responded from beyond the arc to regain her team’s lead, 33-35. Aided by Christina Marinacci and Cassie Harberts’ 23 points each (a career high for the former), USC then unleashed an attack that practically cut Cal out of the game. Although the Trojans could only find 14 points inside the paint, with 44 percent success from the field and 53 percent success on 3-pointers the team nonetheless exhibited superior finesse regardless of where its shots originated.

The Bears continued to nab rebounds (outplaying yet another opponent at the boards to make them the second-best rebounding team in the country), but shots to finish such runs were rare.

With less than six minutes left on the clock and the Trojans ahead 61-47, the only question was whether there was enough time for the Bears to reenact their miraculous first-half run.

They couldn’t. The game collapsed into a series of free throws on both sides and two last-minute jumpers from USC to eventually yield the final score.

“We need to figure out how to make plays when things aren’t easy,” Gottlieb said. “If we don’t recognize that we aren’t where we need to be, then that is going to make like tougher. We’ll take this one on the chin and move (on).”