Tale of the Tape: Kristine Anigwe’s invisible hand

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Saya Coronado/Staff

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Cal junior Kristine Anigwe is as vital to her team’s offensive flow as any player in the Pac-12. With the reputation of being a top scorer in the Pac-12, she’s had to fight for high-percentage shots this season, being well aware that her name is Expo-markered, front and center, on opposing locker room whiteboards.

But as Anigwe has drawn most of the attention, Cal’s backcourt has found alternative ways to generate quick offense.

The team’s first possession of its matchup at the Pac-12 Tournament against Washington illuminates how Cal takes what the defense gives it. Additionally, this play is a textbook example of how Anigwe makes her teammates better, even when she’s denied the ball.

In this game, Cal wastes no time in attempting to get its leading scorer going. The last-place Huskies know that and counter with the familiar strategy of sending multiple defenders Anigwe’s way.

Washington shifts its man-defense as junior Asha Thomas swings the ball to senior Mikayla Cowling on the right wing — Anigwe’s side of the court. The Bears still have nearly 15 seconds on the shot clock, which is enough time to work the ball around the perimeter until an opening appears.

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That’s when the fun begins. Washington forward Amber Melgoza, responsible for Cal senior Penina Davidson on the weak side, rotates over to assist Hannah Johnson in defending the 6’4” Anigwe. If this was the NBA, Cowling might opt to throw a lob to Davidson who is “open” 20 feet away — but don’t worry, Davidson will still end up being the one getting Cal onto the scoreboard first.

Cowling seeks an entry into the post but is denied by Johnson and Melgoza, while the rest of the Huskies rotate over to cover all bases. Washington guard Jenna Moser is responsible for both Davidson and Smith on the opposite side, but she opts to back off Smith and drifts toward Davidson under the basket.

Cowling skips the ball cross-court — typically a risky pass, but the right play with the majority of Washington’s defense occupied with keeping Anigwe anchored.

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Smith, a future Cowling-type leader for head coach Lindsay Gottlieb, doesn’t hesitate as Moser closes out on her. Moser’s momentum carries her past Smith, who drives on her strong side into the middle of the paint.

By virtue of holding the responsibility of guarding No. 31 (Anigwe), Johnson opts to keep a hand on Anigwe’s hip rather than help on Smith.

At this point, the freshman three options: 1) Take a running floater, 2) kick it back out to Thomas for an open three, or 3) drop a dime to Davidson along the baseline. Option No. 3 it is.

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As the New Zealand native receives the ball, she is one of seven players in the key — yet only one Husky is even remotely close to contesting.

2-0, Bears.

Every Cal player holds a key role in executing Davidson’s layup: Anigwe and Thomas as threats to score, Cowling’s awareness, Smith’s decision-making despite her young age, and Davidson’s ability to finish at the rim from the left side.

Josh Yuen is an assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @joshcal2020