The Cal women’s basketball team knows heartbreak all too well.
Six of the Bears’ seven losses have been by a total margin of 15 points. After the losses, the young Bears were usually praised for their grit by hanging to the end with the better team.
That was not the case against USC Saturday.
Cal, the favorites to win the game, lost 76-75 in overtime. When guard Layshia Clarendon hit the game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer, the Bears (18-7, 9-4 in the Pac-12) headed to extra period with the momentum. The 7-0 run that gave the Bears a 72-65 lead only looked to confirm that statement.
But in the last 90 seconds of overtime, the Bears collapsed. Backup point guard Ariya Crook, who averaged 5.3 points per game, scored 11 consecutive points for USC, single-handedly demolishing the Cal defense. Crook finished with 21 points.
“She obviously felt confident with the ball in her hand,” said Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “We fell asleep on a couple of times, and she made us pay.”
Crook played more than her usual minutes since starter Ashley Corral injured her ankle in the first half. The 5-foot-7 freshman seized the day, effectively using the screens to drive down the lane for layups. By overtime, Crook benefited from the absence of Cal guards Eliza Pierre and Brittany Boyd, who both fouled out.
But before Crook’s rampage at Haas Pavilion, Cal had everything going right. Backed by an energetic crowd after Clarendon’s buzzer-beater, the Bears turned to their bread and butter: their post game. Forward Reshanda Gray was the main offensive force in overtime, scoring the first five points.
Gray and the rest of the squad scored most of their overtime points from the free throw line, which was a marvel in itself. Excluding their 6-of-8 free throw shooting in the extra period, the Bears shot a miserable 9-for-19. Some free throws, like a pair Lindsay Sherbert missed in the last minute, could have transformed the narrative of the contest.
Although USC also struggled from the charity stripe, the Bears’ woes gave the Trojans enough opportunities to come back from a five-point halftime deficit. In the second half, the Trojans earned 20 free throws from the Bears’ undisciplined defense.
“We put them on the free-throw line in situations where we could have controlled,” Gottlieb said. “We needlessly put them there.”
The Bears’ poor shooting display extended beyond the free throw line. Boyd and Clarendon, two of the leading scorers, shot a combined 7-for-27 from the field. Boyd looked like a one-trick pony, driving inside the lane through the canopy of Trojan arms over and over again. Clarendon was a non-factor for the 39 minutes before her buzzer-beater.
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