The then-No. 21 Cal women’s basketball came up just short of clinching the title in its annual Cal Classic tournament this weekend. A record-setting, high-scoring win over Manhattan earned Cal a bid to the championship but their performance juxtaposed the offensively silent nail-bitter loss to then-No. 23 Missouri.
The leader of the pack the entire weekend for Cal was junior guard Asha Thomas, who was the leading scorer against both the Jaspers and the Tigers. Against Manhattan, Thomas drained 9 of 14 three-pointers, leading her team to a program-record 17 three-pointers in a single game. Thomas earned herself a notch of respect amongst the best in the nation, tying the record for most 3-pointers in a single game in Division I this season.
Freshman guard Kianna Smith was the second-leading scorer against the Jaspers and showed out with four 3-pointers of her own, hitting six of nine shots from the field and four of five from deep. Smith racked up 17 points and recorded her first career double-double, playing a large role in both outings in the Classic.
The Bears got things going in serious fashion in the first half, racking up seven 3-pointers against Manhattan — five by Thomas and one apiece by Smith and sophomore Jaelyn Brown. Cal ended the first quarter with a game-high 26 points. While the Jaspers showed some grit, outscoring Cal 23-21 in the second, they couldn’t manage to upheave the No. 21 Bears who pulled out an 87-66 win.
But just as quickly as the Bears heated up, they turned ice cold in the next game and the Tigers held the them to a mere 52 points.
Cal seemingly had the upper hand heading into Saturday’s matchup against Missouri. The Tigers hadn’t faced a top-25 ranked team up to that point, Cal was at home and they were hot. It isn’t about you start, it’s about how you finish — but Missouri’s swift start catapulted them into an early lead that held the whole game, and even with a valiant effort by the Bears to come back in the second half, their fate had already been sealed.
By the end of the first quarter, the Tigers were up 15-9 and for the first eight minutes of the game held Cal to a mere five points. In the second quarter, the Bears maintained their slow pace, and for the first four minutes, their only points came from two sets of free throws by senior Mikayla Cowling and freshman Alaysia Styles. The Tigers owned the second quarter and heading into halftime were up 30-22 over the Bears.
After the half, the Bears finally had some pep in their step and resembled the team that fans were hoping to see from the start. Cowling got things started with a quick jumper a mere 30 seconds into the third quarter. Three consecutive threes came from Cal, two from Thomas and one from Smith, to put the team within five, 38-33.
Heading into the final 10 minutes of the title game, the Bears were trailing 43-37 but weren’t going out with a fight — with 3:41 remaining it was all tied up at 49. A free throw by Styles paired with a layup in the paint by junior Kristine Anigwe brought the Bears within two — 54-52 with 16 seconds left.
A foul by senior Penina Davidson allowed the Tigers to put another point on the board and with six seconds to go, the ball was in the hands of the 3-point queen: Thomas. But when it counted most, Thomas couldn’t put out the game-tying shot from deep.
A loss to a fellow top 25 team is understandable, Cal’s inconsistency is worrisome for a team that wants to make a run to the deep in the postseason.
Christie Aguilar covers women’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected].