Cal women’s basketball beats Oregon 55-49 on back of impressive defensive performance

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Lianne Frick/File

Six minutes into the third quarter, Cal forward Kristine Anigwe has the ball with her back to the basket. She looks for an open player to pass to and releases the ball. Suddenly, Oregon player Sabrina Ionescu intercepts the ball in a flash and advances toward the open basket. She gives a simple pass to Maite Cazorla, who lays it in to cut the deficit to 3 points. Thirty seconds later, a carbon copy of the play occurs, with Ionescu stealing the ball again and finishing it on her own.

The messy plays, as unaesthetically unpleasing as the floor of the Matthew Knight Arena, characterized the offensive game between Oregon and Cal. Defense from both sides ruled the game, but the Bears were able to eke out a 55-49 win.

Guard Asha Thomas was the spark for Cal on the offensive end, as she dropped three from beyond the arc in the first half. Her scoring efforts were complemented by Anigwe’s ability to post up and score. Anigwe scored 8 points in the half, shooting two from three from the field and four on eight free throws. Anigwe, however, was dominant on the defensive end as she racked up five defensive rebounds as well as a tone-setting five blocks.

The Ducks, on the other hand, struggled to deal with the tough defense that Cal had set up. Fruitless offensive sets became the order of the first two quarters for the home team, as it shot 29.6 percent from the field. Oregon then amped up its defensive intensity in the second quarter, as it did not allow Cal to score a field goal for the last six minutes of the quarter. Oregon headed into halftime trailing 23-20.

Cal’s third quarter started out positively, with Thomas scoring a three-pointer early on. Cal’s careless ball handling, its biggest weakness this season, did not allow the visitors to extend the lead. Two quick scores off turnovers allowed the home side to come within a point of the visitors. Jaelyn Brown came to Cal’s rescue as she scored 5 in quick succession to increase Cal’s lead to 4 points. Oregon scored another 2 points, but Thomas then stepped up with an important three-pointer that gave Cal room to breathe.

After that, Cal pounded the paint and was able to score off two free throws from Brown and guard Mikayla Cowling. That, followed by a layup from Brown, allowed Cal to go into the final quarter with a 6-point lead.

Anigwe, who had six blocks in the game at the point, was a victim of her own physical play as she recorded her fourth foul of the game trying to block Ruthy Hebard. She had to be subbed out in order to avoid being fouled out. The Ducks capitalized on Anigwe’s absence as Ionescu led their offensive charge, which resulted in them tying the game at 44-44. Oregon was helped by Cal’s inability to score a basket, with the latter missing six shots in a span of two minutes. Thomas’ fifth three-pointer gave Cal a lead with five minutes to go, but that was immediately nullified by a three from Cazorla. The Bears were able to take a crucial 3-point lead with a minute to go, and they were able to hold on to it by a thread. Two fouls on Cayton and Anigwe then allowed Cal to score 2 more and win the game.

Overall, the game was a well-matched battle between the two sides. Cal’s bread and butter in the game was the three-point shot, which allowed it to maintain a lead till the fourth quarter. The Bears shot 39 percent from three, outclassing the home side on the stat line. It was Cal’s defense that won the game, as it did not allow Oregon to take the lead throughout the match, holding the Ducks to a mediocre 37 percent field goal percentage. Moreover, Cal was able to outmuscle Oregon’s frontcourt as it recorded 40 rebounds, reducing the openings for second-chance points.

While the win today won’t necessarily improve Cal’s chances of making it to the NCAA championships, it will definitely be a morale booster for the side. The team had previously lost to Oregon this season, so a win would be a satisfactory respite for Lindsay Gottlieb’s squad. Now it remains to be seen whether it can maintain the same high level of defense against a more fancied Oregon State on Sunday.