Cal women’s basketball advances to next round of Pac-12 Tournament with 66-63 win against Utah

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When freshman Kristine Anigwe, Cal’s leading scorer, fouled out with one minute and 51 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, things looked bleak for the Bears. Anigwe carried the team’s offense through much of the fourth quarter, and with the score tied, Cal would need to dig deep to pull out a victory.

Fast-forward 20 minutes, and the Bears have possession with less than 20 seconds left in overtime. The game is tied 63-63. The inbounds pass goes to sophomore forward Mikayla Cowling, who steps back and launches a mid-range jumper as the shot clock expires. Cowling’s shot crashes through the bottom of the net, giving Cal a 65-63 lead with 17 seconds left. On Utah’s next possession, freshman MaAne Mosley picks off a pass to seal the game for the Bears.

Third time’s the charm.

After losing both regular season contests against Utah, the Bears pulled out a thrilling 66-63 overtime victory Thursday against the Utes when they needed it most. With the victory, Cal will be moving on in the Pac-12 Tournament, and its postseason hopes stay alive.

The matchup between the Bears and Utah started off as a back-and-forth battle in the first quarter. After Utah’s leading scorer Emily Potter scored the first points of the game with a jumper, Anigwe responded with a bucket of her own on the ensuing offensive possession. Even though the Utes led for most of the quarter, the Bears never let the game get away from them, and closed out the period with the game tied 13-13.

Cal claimed its first lead of the game in the second quarter when Cowling hit her first, and only, three-pointer of the game to put the Bears up 18-13. With three minutes left in the quarter, the Bears led 22-20 until an offensive barrage from Utah put it up 30-22. After the Utes’ 10-0 run, junior forward Courtney Range hit a pair of free throws to end the half for the Bears 30-24.

The Bears trailed for most of the third quarter but began to bridge the deficit in the fourth quarter. Anigwe, with four fouls, was forced to sit out early in the period, so Cal needed to look to other players for offensive production. The Bears held Utah scoreless for a critical three-minute stretch with a strong defensive effort in Anigwe’s absence. Once Anigwe returned to the floor, she drew fouls on two consecutive offensive trips, converting all four free-throws. Soon after, however, she committed her fifth and final foul of the game.

Anigwe fouling out was a huge loss for the Bears, but several players stepped up in her absence. Sophomore forward Penina Davidson collected nine rebounds and finished the game with three blocks, including a crucial block on Utah’s Malia Nawahine in overtime. Arguably, the Bears’ top defensive player of the game was Gabby Green, whose length and ability to play the passing lanes were essential to Cal’s victory. Green finished with three steals, all in the fourth quarter and overtime at pivotal junctures of the game.

On a night when their postseason dreams depended on it, the Bears delivered. The road to the March tournament still requires three victories over tough Pac-12 opponents, but the Bears’ resilience in this game and their ability to execute in crunch time has to be a huge confidence boost for the team.

Kapil Kashyap covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]