For much of the second half on Thursday, Utah coach Anthony Levrets looked restless on the sidelines. Despite his nonstop charade of body language, his frustrated facial expression never changed.
The first eight minutes were painful for Levrets and the Utes. After a strong first half in which Utah entered the locker room tied with Cal at 27, the Utes went on an eight-minute scoreless drought to open the second period. During the stretch, Utah (13-13, 6-9 in the Pac-12) missed six consecutive jumpers and committed six turnovers.
As the Utes’ offense disappeared, the Cal women’s basketball team’s shined. The Bears went on a 17-0 rampage to start the second half. That was the difference Cal needed to comfortably beat Utah, 60-46, in Haas Pavilion.
Despite the incredible run, the Bears (21-7, 12-4) weren’t playing their basketball throughout the game. Cal’s four post players were outrebounded for much of the game by the Utes’ Canadian duo, Taryn Wicijowski and Michelle Plouffe. There were a handful of routine shots under the basket that the Bears missed.
Nonetheless, Cal’s struggles were nowhere in comparison to Utah’s. The Utes had trouble controlling the ball, turning it over 18 times. The squad was only 1-of-10 from the 3-point line.
With a shallow bench worsened by starting guard Janita Badon’s recent injury, Utah had to play very strategic basketball.
“(For Utah), the system scores,” said Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “Because they had injuries, all players have a specific role they play.”
The Utes’ goal in the contest was to slow the game down and grind out every possession. But to start, Utah was thrown off its game due to the Bears’ full court pressure. With two early steals, Cal got off to a 9-2 start in the first three minutes.
“We wanted to make it a track meet as much as we can,” Gottlieb said.
As the first half progressed, Utah was able to impose its snail-like pace in the game. Led by guard Iwalani Rodrigues’ 15 points, Utah gained its first and only lead of the game with three minutes left.
But thanks to the aforementioned 17-0 run, the second half was all Bears. Center Talia Caldwell and guard Eliza Pierre were the torch-bearers of Cal’s resurgence — for very different reasons.
After being smothered by Wicijowski in the first half, Caldwell muscled her way under the basket to earn a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Despite her two points, Pierre’s defensive contribution to shut down Rodrigues earned the unsung hero moniker from Gottlieb.
“Other than Talia, Eliza was the MVP of the game” Gottlieb said. “Stats don’t show. It’s special to have a junior captain to come off the bench.”
Even after the Utes were finally making their shots in the second half, the game was already over. Ultimately, the disappointment and frustration from the Utah bench boiled over onto the court. Levrets earned a technical foul with 3:25 left for his tirade at the referees.