Cal women’s basketball struggles on offense, falls to No. 10 Stanford 72-54

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Lianne Frick/File

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The Cal women’s basketball team (17-11, 5-11) was out for blood Sunday evening when it faced No. 10 Stanford (24-4, 14-2) in Palo Alto for the second time in four days. After a close loss in Haas Pavilion on Thursday evening, the Bears wanted to give the Cardinal a taste of their own medicine. But instead they had to swallow the tough pill of defeat, ultimately falling 72-54.

The Bears put up the first basket of the game nearly two minutes into the first quarter when Mikayla Cowling fed a pass into a streaking Kristine Anigwe. The play was a signal of more to come, as Anigwe dominated in the paint for much of the first half, scoring six points and grabbing four rebounds in the first 20 minutes. Her success came despite being double teamed nearly every time she received the ball.

It wasn’t just Anigwe bolstering Cal on offense, either, as seven Bears scored over the course of the first half. Cal’s bench players contributed 13 points to the scoring effort, which was more than usual for a Bears team that generally relies on three or four starters for most of its offensive production. But despite the wide range of offensive actors, Cal’s offense saw little movement off the ball and scored many of its baskets in isolation situations.

Stanford, conversely, made continual use of screens and pick-and-rolls to create open looks and mismatches, which the Cardinal exploited time and time again. The main benefactor of this offensive tactic was Stanford’s Brittany McPhee, who led her team with 16 points and three assists in the first half. McPhee, using her speed and agility, appeared unguardable by the Bears’ defense, which was often caught flat footed and lost in transition — a lethal aspect that contributed to the five point deficit Cal faced at halftime, 37-32.

“We have a great opportunity in front of us. We need to battle every single second of every possession for twenty minutes,” said Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb at halftime. “Move the ball on offense, get stops on defense and rebound the basketball.”

But the Bears still struggled with the woes that plagued them in the first half, often unable to track their player properly on defense and allowing Stanford to get open looks from beyond the arc. Stanford, though seemed to adjust throughout the second half defensively as they packed the lane and allowed Cal to take open outside shots, which the Bears had been struggling to hit all evening.

Anigwe faced foul trouble in the fourth quarter, as she wracked up her fourth personal foul a little under a minute into the final quarter and was put on the bench. Without her, the Bears struggled down low to snag rebounds and put up shots in the lane.

The Cardinal extended its lead to 16 with five minutes remaining, and it appeared that Cal was simply unable to overcome the deficit. The Bears’ went down by 18 with a minute left, ending the possibility of a Cal comeback. The Bears led the game for a little over one minute at the very start of regulation time, but could not regain an advantage in the remainder of the game — falling to 72-54 by the time the buzzer sounded.

Stanford’s three-point shooting was in no way a small factor in the outcome of this game. The team shot an impressive 25 percent from beyond the arc, led by Karlie Samuelson, who went 3-7 from three-point range. Collectively, the Bears hit the same amount of threes as Samuelson — an indicator of their inability to keep up offensively.

Cal had just two players reach double-digits — Anigwe and Cowling — although nine Bears in total put up points. With just two games left in the regular season, Cal will hope to gain higher offensive production from other players and end the season with two final wins.

Sophie Goethals is the assistant sports editor. Contact her at [email protected]