The shot clock disappeared as the seconds wound down in the first half. The scattered fans in Haas Pavilion counted down — six, five, four. The Cal women’s basketball team had a one-point edge over UCLA in a period plagued by sloppy inaction.
With two seconds left on the clock, Cal guard Lindsay Sherbert grabbed a pass from Eliza Pierre. From her position on the outer left corner, grazing the arc, she bent her knees in preparation for a 3-point buzzer-beater.
But the shot fell short, skimmed the net and amounted to nothing — much like both Cal and UCLA’s performances in all but 10 minutes of play on Thursday night.
“Sloppy” is the only way to put it when describing the Bears’ 67-58 win over the Bruins. UCLA’s sluggish and gritty game forces other teams to slow down and clumsily mimic that style.
“UCLA does a really good job of making you play ugly,” said Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “And we acquiesced to that for about 30 minutes.”
Cal played right into that trap. The Bruins’ heavy-handed pressure on defense led to Cal’s inability to drive to the post and rendered its bigs pretty useless. The game utterly lacked rhythm and, to an extent, transitions; instead, long passes off defensive boards on both ends of the court created a stop-motion style of play.
In fact, the contest’s first drive — a jerky long pass from Brittany Boyd that Talia Caldwell fumbled out of bounds beneath the post — was telling of the game’s overall underwhelming atmosphere.
Cal racked up a glaring 25 turnovers, 11 of which Boyd logged. The freshman’s fast-paced antics have led to two 19-point games in the past two weeks, as well as a night in which she became the third player in program history to notch 10 steals.
But Boyd scrambled throughout much of the game. She seemed desperate to spark a major play, but the majority of her drives were futile.
“I had to show (the turnovers) weren’t bothering me,” Boyd said. “Even though they were, a lot.”
It was only during the first 10 minutes of the second period that the tilt looked like an actual basketball game.
Reshanda Gray hit a quick layup after halftime to push Cal’s edge to 29-26. Suddenly, the Bears had speed and control and were driving fast inside the paint.
Cal shot 68.2 percent from the field in the second half, and Gray’s stats leaped to 17 points and 14 rebounds by the end.
“We play fast,” Gottlieb said. “Sometimes that’s going to mean a lot of fast baskets.”
What’s more, the Bears limited the Bruins to far outside the key on any of the latter’s offensive drives. UCLA was the only team looking sloppy.
But Cal’s spark extinguished as quickly as it began. Cal still retained its rhythm, limiting UCLA to 10-point deficits throughout the remaining 10 minutes of play.
Yet such a lead is shaky at best; a few baskets from the opponent, and the final decision is once again up in the air.
Such was the case as the minutes wound down. UCLA climbed back up, and Cal only found salvation in a series of one-and-ones.