Star junior leads Cal women’s basketball to Lindsay Gottlieb’s 200th win

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Stephanie Li/Staff

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When a team’s star player is on their game, opposing defenses can expect the ball to find the hot hand. Led by junior forward Kristine Anigwe’s 26 points and overpowering presence in the paint, No. 25 Cal women’s basketball (6-2) broke away from San Diego (5-4) in the second half to secure an 89-64 win, the 200th of head coach Lindsay Gottlieb’s career.

“It’s always really special being a part of anything with coach because she’s a part of our family and it’s really cool to be on this journey with her,” Anigwe said.

Sound offensive basketball appears pretty in motion, but it only pays off on the scoreboard if the ball finds the bottom of the net. The same is true for a stagnant offense — while discombobulated and out of rhythm, points are still points no matter how they come about.

Despite shooting the ball at a 68 percent clip in the first half, the Bears’ offense fell into a cold spell as it totaled 10 turnovers compared to the Toreros’ five, allowing the visitors to keep things close. Although the Bears led 41-31 at halftime, most of their halfcourt sets were unpolished and rushed. Had they not shot the ball at such a high percentage, an upset may have started to brew.

Given Cal’s recent dominance against Seattle and Santa Clara, it was only a matter of time, however, before the offense found its rhythm. With 16 points in the first half, the attention San Diego gave to Anigwe down in the post opened up room for junior Asha Thomas to operate, as the guard wrecked havoc once again from beyond the arc. After a career-high nine threes against Manhattan two weeks ago, Cal’s starting point guard splashed home three of her four long-range attempts en route to 13 points.

“Whatever teams throw at us, we have enough,” Gottlieb said. “I expect us to make layups and make tough plays that (Anigwe) makes look easy, and I also expect us to get the ball to where it needs to go and for us to make shots.”

On the other side of the ball, a mixture of zone and full-court press defenses were effective in limiting the San Diego offense to just 42 percent shooting for the game. Senior forward Sydney Williams and senior guard Aubrey Ward-El paced the Toreros with 18 and 14 points, respectively, to keep San Diego within striking distance. But a smothering effort from Anigwe and senior Penina Davidson, who Gottlieb opted to put near the front of a 1-3-1 three-quarter court press, prevented San Diego from finding advantageous looks from the field.

Nearly a decade after defeating these same Toreros for her first win as a head coach, Gottlieb will refocus her team in her quest for win No. 201 as Cal prepares for its final stretch of nonconference games, starting with University of the Pacific (4-4) in Stockton on Sunday. As long as their shooting doesn’t cool off any time soon, the Bears will continue to be a tough matchup for unranked opponents.

“Someone tell Tara (VanDerveer) 800 more (wins) and I’ve got her,” Gottlieb joked.

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