Bears start fast, fly past Redhawks 87-67

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Aditi Raghunath/Staff

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Five days after dropping a tightly contested matchup against a ranked opponent and with Seattle (3-4) coming to Berkeley, retribution was in order for the Cal women’s basketball team (4-2). In the fourth annual “School Haas Rock” game, the Bears did just that — rock their opponents, that is. In front of a lively crowd of 4,000 composed mostly of middle and elementary school students, Cal put on an offensive clinic in its 87-67 wire-to-wire rout of the Redhawks.

The Bears offense looked inept in the Cal Classic finale against No. 23 Missouri, scoring just 52 points. But the story was far different on Thursday, as junior forward Kristine Anigwe’s overwhelming presence in the paint and a career-high 18 points from sophomore CJ West off the bench were no match for Seattle’s defensive scheme.

The Bears outpaced the Redhawks in nearly every offensive category right from tipoff and led by as much as 29 points early in the fourth quarter. Cal’s shooting highlighted its fast start, as the team hit more than 50 percent of its attempts in each quarter, including a 56.3 percent clip in the opening period.

But it wasn’t just the offense clicking on all cylinders in this one. Cal’s smothering defensive, highlighted by aggressive bench play from sophomore Jaelyn Brown, held the Redhawks to just 24 first-half points on 32.3 percent shooting, as the Bears raced out to a 20-point halftime lead.

Whether it was forcing a shot-clock violation or turning steals into fast-break opportunities, Cal did it all for three quarters before giving way to extended garbage time in the fourth. Redshirt senior Alexis Montgomery put up an impressive 26 points and seven rebounds, but she was only one of two Redhawks to make in double-figure points for the game.

In their half-court sets, feeding the beast became a common theme for the Bears in the first half, as Anigwe finished with 25 points on 12-of-16 shooting in just 23 minutes of playing time. The Redhawks were no match for the dominating skill set of the 2018 Naismith Player of the Year candidate, who bounced back from an uncharacteristically quiet two-game stretch this past weekend.

Perhaps the most surprising contribution came from the reserves. Highlighted by West’s career day, the Bears’ bench outscored the Redhawks’ 44-9. With seven Cal players chipping in at least five points, the entire offense was in a good rhythm.

The big lead allowed head coach Lindsay Gottlieb to rest the majority of her rotation players down the stretch, with freshman Kianna Smith as the only Bear playing more than 23 minutes. That rest could prove vital as Cal shifts its focus to Saturday’s road game at Santa Clara (2-4), a matchup that the Bears historically lead 26 to 7.

Santa Clara is coming off an overtime loss to San Jose State and has struggled to convert on the offensive end. With at least 15 turnovers in each game, Santa Clara has not taken care of the ball and consequently hasn’t found much of an offensive rhythm. That said, its defense has held opponents to just 40 percent shooting even, which may give some confidence in those hoping for a Broncos upset.

With five games remaining until conference play, it’s evident that Cal is more than just a single All-American with a surrounding cast. Whether it’s been hot three-point shooting from junior guard Asha Thomas or impressive play from the Bears’ younger and still developing rotation players, it will take more than Anigwe for Cal to continue its winning ways.

Josh Yuen covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].

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