Cal women’s basketball blows out Arizona, 75-56, at Haas Pavilion

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Aslesha Kumar/Staff

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The Cal women’s basketball team (12-13, 3-11 Pac-12) had its star back Sunday against Arizona (11-15, 2-12). And the Bears played like a team who had a 20-point per game scorer back in the fold.

Freshman forward Kristine Anigwe had 24 points and three rebounds in the game after missing Friday’s loss to Arizona State. Her impressive showing led Cal to a 75-56 win at Haas Pavilion.

“(Anigwe’s) one of the best scorers in the country. There’s never a doubt about that,” said Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “Kristine is an incredible person. She’s had an unreal freshman year so obviously we always want her out there. But I thought the spirit and energy of the whole team fed off of that.”

The Bears looked to Anigwe on nearly every possession to start the game. The Wildcats were ready, and they triple-teamed the freshman to force a turnover on the game’s first play. But Cal, along with Anigwe herself, quickly adjusted, finding better ways to get the forward good looks.

Entry passers began to target Anigwe deeper and deeper in the post, where it’d be easy for her to put the ball up and in over any form of defense. And the freshman made quicker decisions when she did get the ball, immediately turning for scores when the defense was light and looking to pass as soon as extra defenders arrived. This helped Anigwe put up five of Cal’s first seven points, and the attention she drew from the defense helped the Bears go 5-9 in the first quarter. The fifth of those shots came on a buzzer beater from three by sophomore forward Mikalya Cowling, who had 13 points and seven rebounds in the game, to put Cal up 15-12.

Arizona came out in the second quarter firing on all cylinders, behind a hot streak from junior guard Malena Washington. With the teams tied at 17 midway through the frame, Washington took over, scoring the Wildcats’ next eight points, on two treys and a lay-in at the rim. Her run put Arizona up 25-22. The Wildcats would go on to score two more points to extend the run to 10-5.

Down by five points, however, a nice assist gave junior forward Courtney Range a layup and Cowling followed it up with a three to tie the game. This started a 9-1 run for Cal that got the Bears up front, 31-28, and had the crowd at Haas Pavilion alive and on their feet.

The game shifted in the third quarter when the Bears started looking to Anigwe, who still only had five points. The freshman star played some of her best basketball this Pac-12 season to start the second half and scored all nine of Cal’s points in just more than two minutes. By the end of Anigwe’s run, the Bears led by eight and they followed it up with a three by freshman Asha Thomas.

But a LaBrittney Jones drive to the rim midway through the third frame drew Anigwe’s fourth foul and Gottlieb was left to sub out her thriving star. The Bears managed to build their lead up to 11 without Anigwe on the court on a three by Range, who had nine points in the game. But the Wildcats went on a run near the end of the quarter, fueled by easy transition buckets and missed Cal free throws — the Bears shot 5-11 in the frame and a mediocre 12-21 for the game from the charity stripe. The Wildcats got within five and a livid Gottlieb called a timeout.

In most games, a similar run would have led to Anigwe’s return, but her foul trouble forced the Bears to turn to their role players. Freshman MaAne Mosley came out of the timeout to put in a basket and sophomore Penina Davidson made a couple of free throws to keep Cal up seven heading into the fourth quarter, a crucial moment as it also signalled Anigwe’s return to the court.

As soon as she stepped back into the game, the Bears looked like a different team. Anigwe scored her team’s first six points before two minutes had elapsed in the period, and Cowling drained a three to put Cal up 61-45 with 7:57 left.

This lead proved insurmountable, as the Bears solved the full court press the Wildcats instituted for the rest of regulation to get some easy baskets at the rim and grab a 19-point win.

“Some of the growth we’ve seen was evident today,” Gottlieb said. “I didn’t feel like there was enough separation and I challenged them to step up and change our demeanor and take control of the game and they really did that.”

Hooman Yazdanian covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @hoomanyazdanian