If Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb proved anything in the season opener against Lehigh, she has no reservations about going to her bench.
When up-and-coming sophomore Brittany Boyd showed a hint of pain, Gottlieb placed in senior guard Eliza Pierre. When starting forward Gennifer Brandon blew a defensive assignment, sophomore Justine Hartman promptly replaced her.
“I don’t have a short lease on that kinda stuff, we just want to get more comfortable playing rotations,” Gottlieb said. “Sometimes less is more; I need fresh legs in April. We will use a deep bench, it is something that we will always do.”
The Bears (1-0) began their road back to the NCAA tournament with a resounding 80-48 beat down of the Mountain Hawks (0-1) on Friday night in Haas Pavillion.
Cal’s first minutes of regulation were dominating as the team smothered the Lehigh offense. The Mountain Hawks’ first points did not come until 13:32 left in the half,.
“We started the game with a lot of energy and asserted how we wanted to play,” Gottlieb said. “Our defense, both in forcing turnovers and creating stops, was really good.”
Off the bench, Eliza Pierre had a solid all-around first half, recording four points to go along with four assists and two steals. But while Pierre came out strong, forward Gennifer Brandon, who was suffering from flu-like symptoms going into the match, struggled in the first frame.
The junior wasted an offensive possession with a contested deep two early into the shot clock. On the other end, Brandon let her player beat her off the dribble for an easy layup. Gottlieb had seen enough, pulling Brandon in favor of Hartman.
The depth at the forward position, an asset the squad will rely heavily on this year, was used by Gottlieb as a tool to keep her players honest against Lehigh.
At the 2:02 mark, the Cal bench had pushed the lead to 40-16 with nine Bears seeing at least seven minutes of action.At halftime, Cal already held a 24-point advantage at 44-20.
Brandon took the benching to heart, coming out in the second half more aggressive on the offensive boards. The forward finished the night with 17 points and 10 rebounds, leading the team in both categories.
Off a long Lehigh miss midway through the second half, Boyd pushed the fast break for an easy layup. Although Boyd converted the easy two, her momentum carried her into the backboard causing her pain and prompting a substitution by Gottlieb.
“We are trying to play her through fatigue because we need her, but she is always going to play fast,” Gottlieb said.
Boyd would later return to finish off her night with 16 points and three assists. Although Boyd was effective on the full court press, she only shot 37.5% while had one more turnover than assists.
Despite Boyd’s sporadic play, Cal cruised to the 80-48 victory. The team had seven players play more than 20 minutes and no one player exceeding 30 minutes.
“We don’t need to be perfect for 40 minutes,” Gottlieb said. “We need to be an elite team that asserts its will on an opponent.”