“In order to make history, you have to do historic things.”
This is the Kobe Bryant quote that inspired Kristine Anigwe’s 50-point performance back on Dec. 8. Now, with the Bears earning a No. 9 seed in the 2017 NCAA Tournament and Twitter acknowledgement from the Black Mamba himself, Anigwe will have a chance to make some more history.
The Cal women’s basketball team (19-13) will be slotted in the Oklahoma City region, facing off against eighth-seeded LSU (20-11) in its first-round matchup this Saturday in Waco, Texas. Should Cal get past LSU this first round, it will likely have to beat No. 1 Baylor to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
The selection comes with much shock and joy for the Bears, who were presumed to be on the bubble with a less-than-stellar conference record. But luckily for Cal, the selection committee looked favorably upon the Pac-12, which sent seven teams in total. In addition to Cal, the other Pac-12 teams going dancing are Washington, UCLA, Stanford, Oregon State, Oregon and Arizona State.
Cal compiled a 2-9 record against those seven teams, with the two wins being against UCLA on Feb. 3 and Oregon on Feb. 24. The Bears have consistently struggled to play well for full four quarters against top teams, particularly slouching in the end of games.
The struggles began with Cal’s double overtime loss to Arizona State on Jan. 1. It marked the Bears’ first loss of the season after a 13-0 start. That loss would eerily foreshadow similar losses the Bears suffered later on in the season. There was the time when Cal blew a 6-point lead with 30 seconds left to play against Oregon, or when the Bears ran out of gas at the end of an emotional home game against Stanford.
In almost all of its losses, Cal was competitive and had chances to win. Of the Bears’ 12 regular season losses, only three were by more than 10 points. Cal’s regular season résumé might have been enough to go dancing, but coming up short in the tournament clearly will not be an option.
It will be the 12th time that Cal has made the NCAA Tournament and its fifth appearance in the past six seasons. Last season, the Bears fell apart in the second half of the season, preventing the Bears from making the tournament. History nearly repeated itself this season, but the Bears were able to eek out marquee wins against UCLA and Oregon that proved to be just enough.
Anigwe, who was named to the Pac-12 All-Tournament Team last week, has been the star for the Bears all season long and will be making her first appearance in the tournament. She followed up a USBWA National Freshman of the Year season with a fantastic sophomore campaign, averaging 21.2 points per game.
Anigwe’s performance will figure prominently into how far the Bears advance into the tournament. Many of the Bears’ losses have been due to opposing game plans that have proven effective against Anigwe. That means that upperclassmen such as Courtney Range, Penina Davidson and Mikayla Cowling will have to step up, as all of them have prior experience in the NCAA Tournament.
When the Bears are playing their best, they can compete with anybody. There have been Cinderella teams in the past, and after sneaking into the tournament, there’s only one thing Cal will be focused on.
Jeffrey Liu covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]