Cal women’s basketball’s hot shooting continues against Santa Clara

Aditi Raghunath/File

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It’s hard to start a game better than the way the No. 24 Cal’s women’s basketball team (5-2) did against Santa Clara (2-5). To make matters worse for the Broncos, the Bears didn’t decelerate in the second or third period either. At the end of the day, the scoreboard says it all: a 79-41 rout.

Outpacing its opponents by a margin of 52-18 in the first and third quarters, Cal’s fast play and quick hands were more than enough to hold Santa Clara to the fewest total points the Bears have surrendered over the past two seasons. It was the second consecutive blowout for the blue and gold, who dismantled Seattle 87-67 at home before making the short trip down the East Bay.

From the moment their shoes hit the floor, the Bears were clicking on all cylinders, beginning the game on a 16-0 run before Santa Clara sophomore Tamia Braggs finally put the Broncos on the board nearly six and a half minutes into the game. Meanwhile, freshman Kianna Smith continued her strong season by nailing two consecutive threes in the first minute. The onslaught took off from there, with Cal’s 38-17 halftime lead looking similar to the final score of a football game.

As Smith and sophomore Jaelyn Brown caught the hot hand from 3-point range, the Bronco defense tried to adjust by protecting the perimeter. But as defenders drifted away from the paint, junior Kristine Anigwe and freshman Alaysia Styles were left with room to work, leading the Bears’ frontcourt to another efficient performance.

Thanks to 22 turnovers forced by the defense, there wasn’t much hope for the Broncos on that side of the ball either. The only Bronco to record double digits was freshman Ashlyn Herlihy, and Santa Clara converted only a single three-pointer on eight attempts from beyond the arc. That’s not a recipe for success against any team at any time, let alone a ranked team playing inspired basketball.

It was the second straight game in which the Bears led from start to finish. At one point, the Bears had an advantage of 43 points — their largest lead of the week. While it’s easy to solely credit an offense which shot 53 percent from the field, the Bears’ great looks were a result of head coach Lindsay Gottlieb’s combination of formidable defensive sets.

By implementing a three-quarter court press and mixing in a half-court trap defense, Cal has forced its opponents into sloppy play late in the shot clock. Anigwe, Smith, Brown and senior Penina Davidson recorded two steals each, accentuating the teamwide defensive effort that Gottlieb has to appreciate.

As preconference play comes to a close, it will be crucial for the Bears to keep up their defensive pressure. With only four games in the next three weeks, expect Cal to maintain the energy that the team has shown in the past two games.

Despite the lack of games, this upcoming month is a time for the Bears to stay healthy and stay hungry, with the value of practice time at an apex prior to the competitive Pac-12 schedule. With four conference opponents currently ranked ahead of it, the real tests are only just beginning for Cal.

Josh Yuen is an assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].