On Valentine’s Day, the No. 22 Cal women’s basketball team left the Wildcats desiring more. Arizona left its date with the Bears disappointed after losing to Cal, 65-49.
The Wildcats (5-19, 1-12 Pac-12) hoped to ride the momentum from their Sunday upset of rival No. 11 Arizona State, but Friday’s matchup at Haas Pavilion belonged to the Bears (17-7, 9-4) from the tipoff through to the final whistle.
“We wanted to set the tone with our style of basketball tonight, which is defense, transition and rebounding, and I thought we did that,” said Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb.
Cal’s junior forward Reshanda Gray recorded the game’s first points with a layup 40 seconds after the opening jump. The Bears held the Wildcats scoreless for the first three minutes of play, taking a 7-0 lead. Arizona showed a quick burst of life between the 17- and 14-minute marks, holding the Bears scoreless for a three-minute stretch of their own. The Wildcats went on a 10-0 run with freshman forward Candace Warthen tallying half of her team’s points.
The 10-7 lead would be Arizona’s only in the game, as the Bears bounced back through the half to build an 11-point lead with five minutes remaining. Cal’s defense was simply too much for the Wildcats to handle, which Gray made clear with a powerful block with 3:37 remaining in the half.
Cal closed out the final minutes of the half in dominant fashion. With less than three minutes remaining, the Bears’ junior guard Brittany Boyd drove up the floor toward the basket, drawing defenders away from a wide-open Gennifer Brandon. Boyd dished it off, and Brandon sank the easy two. With less than a minute remaining, Cal’s freshman forward Courtney Range sank a shot from long range, but the Wildcats responded with a 3-pointer of their own as the shot clock ran down. Cal recorded the final shot of the half when Gray sank her layup at the buzzer to close out the first period 39-24.
The Bears kept their aggressive tempo into the second half as Boyd nailed a jumper for the first points of the half. However, Cal’s hot streak seemed in jeopardy when Boyd went down hard early in the second. After the scare, Boyd left the game limping and headed into the locker room. She re-emerged to watch the rest of the game from the bench with ice wrapped to her ankle.
“It is always tough when one of your best players gets injured,” Range said. “But we have to keep going.”
When Boyd left the floor, it seemed all composure left with her. Both teams spent a several-minute stretch scrambling for balls, missing layups and fighting for contested rebounds. At one point, Arizona’s Keyahndra Cannon stole a Cal pass and ran the floor for an easy bucket on the other end, forcing a Cal timeout to quell the chaos.
“Brittany (Boyd) is our floor leader,” Gottlieb said. “She is our coach on the floor. There is a rhythm; everything goes through her. I wanted to get them refocused and confident. I thought we had to take control of the momentum.”
The break seemed to do the trick, as the Bears retook the floor with much more organization and control of the game. Cal’s collected passing was rewarded when Afure Jemerigbe got the ball open behind the arch and sank it for three with less than 10 minutes left.
“Our defensive effort the entire game was good,” Gottlieb said. “We got a little bit ragged at times on offense, but it felt like we were dialed in the whole time.”
Despite the few hiccups, the game clearly belonged to the Bears. Both teams were plagued by turnovers, with 21 for Cal and 17 for Arizona, but the Wildcats could not capitalize on the sometimes sloppy play.
“They play hard, and they are very athletic,” Gottlieb said. “We could have taken care of the ball better, but I credit them on continuing to put pressure on us the whole game … They try to make it up-tempo and hectic.”
The Wildcats lacked production from senior Carissa Crutchfield, who scored a career-high 16 points over the Bears in January and bested that performance with 20 in the Wildcats’ upset over ASU. Crutchfield recorded zero points against Cal this time around.
With the win and ASU’s loss to No. 6 Stanford, the Bears climbed to share the second-place spot in the Pac-12 standings with the Sun Devils. The two squads will play for the spot outright on Sunday at 4 p.m. in Haas Pavilion.
“Everyone else has to come through here now,” Gottlieb said. “We have put ourselves in the position to control our own destiny.”
However, the Bears may have to fight that battle without their steady leader. Boyd left Haas Pavilion on crutches and remains unaware of her prognosis for Sunday’s crucial matchup.
“She is the toughest player I’ve coached,” Gottlieb said. “If she can go she will go.”
Taylor Brink covers women’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected]