Cal women’s basketball edges St. Mary’s in overtime after thrilling road test

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Lorenzo Dela Cruz/File

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This Saturday afternoon, David (almost) slew Goliath.

The No. 13 Cal women’s basketball team survived by the skin of its teeth in an 81-78 overtime win over the Saint Mary’s Gaels. Led by an inspired OT effort by sophomore Kianna Smith, the Bears were able to keep their undefeated streak alive to improve to 8-0 on the season.

While Cal came out on top, this was the team’s hardest-fought battle yet. But when it mattered most, the Bears were still able to execute. After a fourth quarter of trading buckets, Cal ended regulation with an extremely clutch layup to tie the game by senior Kristine Anigwe off a perfect pick-and-roll play with senior Asha Thomas.

During overtime, Smith came alive. Pouring in 5 of the Bears’ 8 OT points, Smith jump-started the Cal offense. After a night when the Bears were struggling from behind the arc, the sharpshooting guard knocked down an extremely clutch corner three to give the Bears their first lead of the game since the first quarter.

Behind Smith, graduate student Receé Caldwell was able to pour in a season-high 20 points, showing Cal just how valuable her veteran presence can be. Even though her first score of the second half came late in the third, it was one of her most valuable yet, as her 3-pointer capped off a 6-0 run for the Bears, who trailed by as much as 15 in the contest.

Starting the half against the Gaels, the Bears sat tied at 41-41.

Bucket for bucket, board for board, the Gaels would not cede an inch of breathing room for Cal. And unfortunately for Cal, the Gaels came out of the half swinging.

Usually a team defined by its strong second-half performances, Cal was at a loss, floundering as the Gaels started the third with a 13-0 run.

At the center of all of this, Gaels sophomore Emily Codding dominated, pouring in 10 of her game-high 26 points in the third alone. The talented guard was on fire, torching the Bears from inside and outside the arc.

In the frontcourt, Cal star Anigwe had one of her most difficult games yet, struggling to get past the Gaels’ twin towers of senior Sydney Raggio and redshirt junior Claire Ferguson. Saint Mary’s sent constant double teams to challenge Anigwe in the paint. While Anigwe finished with a team-high 24 points, she was held to just 9 of 24 shooting on the night.

But while Cal struggled for most of the game, junior C.J. West came out with her best performance yet. Playing a season high in minutes, the center feasted on the glass, bringing down 15 rebounds to help counter a strong rebounding performance by Raggio.

The Bears had not had a close game since their season opener against Houston, but with their schedule only getting more difficult from here on out, they’ll have to learn to adjust. While they’ve been able to skate by on their strong finishing abilities, Cal will need to learn to start their games stronger if they’re going to make a deep run this postseason.

Harshil Desai covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @harshdailycal.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that C.J. West is a redshirt junior. In fact, she is a junior, but not a redshirt junior.