Cal women’s basketball concludes nonconference play with 62-52 victory

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Stephanie Li/File

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With an extended eight-day holiday break approaching, it was imperative for the No. 24 Cal women’s basketball team (9-2) to finish an already impressive nonconference schedule with another W. In a tough road environment nearly 2,400 miles away from home, the Bears came through for their sixth consecutive victory, pulling away from a struggling Kentucky team (8-5) 62-52.

Perhaps it was the motivation of more than a week between games that allowed a number of players to play extended minutes. Freshman Kianna Smith and junior Asha Thomas, both guards, each played 37 minutes, while senior Mikayla Cowling played all 40.

Every minute of Cowling’s leadership and efficient play was key as Cal found itself in unfamiliar territory after 10 minutes of play, down 20-15 entering the second quarter. The senior scored 10 of her 15 points in that frame, while Smith accounted for more than double her team’s 15 assists with eight for the game.

Junior forward Kristine Anigwe, returning after a one-game absence, played 19 minutes, but was not her usual dominant self. Anigwe did finish with seven rebounds, a category in which the Bears were overmatched for the game, 43-31.

In a building that saw the likes of current NBA players John Wall, Devin Booker, Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Davis, among others, dominate under famed Kentucky men’s basketball head coach John Calipari, it took a team effort for Cal to break away from the Wildcats. Despite committing 17 turnovers — including an unusual eight from Anigwe — and surrendering a game-high 21 points to junior guard Maci Morris, the Bears found a way to outscore their opponents in the final three quarters.

On top of consistent shooting from its backcourt, Cal held the Wildcats scoreless from the field in the final 8:04 of the first half. But feeding off of its home crowd, Kentucky wouldn’t go away easily, regaining the lead early in the second half. Second-chance opportunities favored the Wildcats 19-8 for the contest. It took a 10-0 run to conclude the third quarter, keyed by the interior presence of senior Penina Davidson, for the Bears to claim a lead that they would not relinquish.

While Anigwe had a contest to forget, Davidson and other frontcourt players had the back of their All-American teammate. The senior from New Zealand finished with 13 points and seven rebounds while Anigwe’s backup, sophomore CJ West, collected a career-high 10 rebounds off the bench.

Kentucky lost for the fourth straight time, struggling mightily from the field at just a 26.5 percent clip. Despite dominating the glass, the Wildcats were reliant offensively on a single player, as Morris finished 9 of 26 from the field in her 34 minutes of play. Although the Bears often attempt to run their offense through Anigwe, it’s the play of Thomas, Smith, Davidson and others that prevent Cal from being too one-dimensional.

Team play will continue to be vital as the team shifts its focus to Pac-12 play, where its first opponent will be USC (10-1). The Trojans began the year on an eight-game win streak and, like the Bears, are eager to kick off conference play with a win. It remains to be seen who will benefit most from the extended rest, but the comfort of being at home should pay off.

 

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

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