Between a Jan. 28 loss at No. 4 Stanford and the Haas Pavilion rematch on March 4 , the Cal women’s basketball team’s schedule was supposed to be a string of games against mediocre Pac-12 teams. The Bears were supposed to stay comfortably in second place behind the Cardinal.
Enter Arizona State, the hottest team in the conference outside of the Bay Area. Before the weekend, the Sun Devils were on fire, winning five straight games before this weekend, outleaping a half dozen teams to be placed in second place alongside Cal.
As expected, Saturday’s contest between the Bears and Arizona State was a grinding match that had no clear victor until the very last minute. But Cal squeezed past the Sun Devils with a 67-62 win at the Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe, Ariz., cementing a two-game lead over Arizona State.
The 129 total points was unusually high for Arizona State’s standards, as the Sun Devils’ stifling defense has averaged the fewest points allowed in the Pac-12. The Bears’ 67 points was the highest number of points allowed for Arizona State (15-6, 6-5 in the Pac-12) since its 73-55 loss to DePaul on Dec. 16.
For the Bears (17-6, 8-3), their defense was made easy by point guard Brittany Boyd. Boyd put on a defensive show, recording 10 steals to tie the school record.
“I was just playing basketball,” Boyd said. “(The steals) came naturally.”
Points came naturally for Boyd too. The freshman tied her career-best 19 points from last weekend’s dominant performance against Stanford. Over the past three games, Boyd has averaged more than 17 points, easing the burden off the post players.
The fearsome four under the post couldn’t generate the usual offensive performance against the Sun Devils’ defense. The Arizona State front court — led by Kimberly Brandon, sister of Cal forward Gennifer Brandon — kept Brandon, Talia Caldwell and others off the glass. Reshanda Gray was the only post player to have a solid game, finishing with 13 points and seven rebounds.
The Bears started out strong in the first three minutes of the game, quickly stockpiling a 9-2 lead. Cal failed to hold onto its largest lead of the game, as the Sun Devils grinded the game to a 11-11 tie.
The momentum shifted to Arizona State’s side as it imposed its slow, time-wearing style of play. The fast-paced, transition-focused Bears were not playing in their comfort zone throughout the first half.
“If someone wants to slow us down and make life tough, the best thing we can do is rebound and transition the ball,” said Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “When we were in control of the game, we were able to do that.”
The Bears regained the lead in the last minute of the first half and ended the period with a 35-32 lead.
The game was tight until the 7:30 mark when Cal took back the lead, 50-49, but it was too close for comfort. Cal exhaled a sigh of relief only when Boyd scored a fastbreak layup with nine seconds left to give the Bears a five-point edge.