In what was expected to be a tightly contested matchup between two teams sharing identical conference championship goals, No. 23 Cal (10-4) and No. 25 Arizona State (12-3) entertained as advertised. But as things unfolded down the stretch, it was the Sun Devils, led by defensive pressure early in the shot clock and junior forward Kianna Ibis’ 26 points, who were a step ahead of the visiting Bears.
Cal will have a shot at retribution on its home floor in just a few weeks’ time, but Arizona State was the better team in round one, besting the Bears 80-71 to hand them their second straight Pac-12 loss.
Although the majority of Cal’s offensive numbers — particularly a shooting percentage of 53.6 percent — look impressive on paper, it was actually the classic tale of two halves that played out on the offensive end.
While Cal was held to just 25 points in the first half on 38.5 percent shooting, the Bears mounted a comeback attempt in the second half. Led by the usual suspects in junior guard Asha Thomas and junior forward Kristine Anigwe, Cal scored 25 in the third quarter alone, a score equal to its total in the first half.
Despite logging just 27 minutes of court time, Ibis matched the dominating interior presence of Anigwe right from the get-go. With the junior putting on a much-needed scoring clinic for the Sun Devils, her frontcourt teammates could not have handled Cal’s defensive attack any more cleanly, committing just four turnovers for the game compared to the Bears’ 11. In a combined 68 minutes of playing time, sophomore guards Robbi Ryan and Reili Richardson didn’t turn the ball over one time, with Richardson producing a game-high 11 assists.
For Arizona State, taking care of the ball ultimately resulted in better looks at the basket and more shot attempts — eight, to be exact. Cal kept this one close throughout despite falling behind early, but it never captured the lead, in part because Anigwe, senior forward Penina Davidson and senior guard Mikayla Cowling found themselves foul trouble.
After the team failed to connect from 3-point range in the first two quarters, Thomas made a trio of 3s in the second half, pacing the Bears with 25 points for the game. While a number of teammates were dealing with foul trouble, Thomas played all but three minutes of the game, trying to will Cal back in the final moments.
With the outcome still very much in the balance, Arizona State slammed the door early in the fourth by extending its lead to double digits, ultimately dropping Cal to 0-4 against ranked teams this season.
It will be a quick turnaround for head coach Lindsay Gottlieb, who opted to play four starters for at least 35 minutes of playing time each in this one, and has a matinee tip-off with Arizona (4-10) looming on Sunday. Come Jan. 28, the next time the Bears will see Arizona State, expect Cal to protect its home court to keep pace with the streaking Sun Devils in their race to the top.
Josh Yuen is an assistant sports editor. Contact him at