Cal women’s basketball drops Pac-12 opener to UCLA, loses third straight

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Jenna Wong/File

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New Year’s resolutions always tend to be broken far sooner than desired, and Cal women’s basketball seems to know as much firsthand. Right off the bat, the Bears’ hopes to bounce back from their two losses in nonconference play went out the window against UCLA.

After a close finish in overtime, the Bruins came up with an 84-79 win over the Bears to start the Pac-12 with a 2-0 record, while Cal dropped its first conference game.

UCLA is currently on a roll, with its victory over Cal marking the team’s sixth straight win. On the other hand, the Bears are enduring an opposite trend, as they dropped their third straight game, with their last two losses at the hands of unranked teams. The Cal faithful might not be able to see their team ranked in the top 25 next week for the first time this season, depending on how the Bears respond against USC.

After a close first quarter, UCLA held a 1-point lead, but the Bruins built on that in the second quarter as Cal had trouble handling the ball, turning it over 11 times in the first half. The turnover problem for the Bears persisted all game, as they finished with 19 total, greatly exceeding UCLA’s 10. Cal also only had 13 assists in the game, displaying the team’s inability to move the ball on offense.

With a 42-32 halftime score, the Bruins had a 10-point lead going into locker rooms after 20 minutes of action. UCLA shot 50 percent from the field and converted three of the team’s five attempts from behind the arc. Cal shot 46 percent from the field, with the point differential caused by the fact that the Bruins attempted 10 more shots than the Bears.

A third-quarter surge often characteristic of Cal was just what the Bears needed, but for the majority of the quarter, UCLA succeeded in keeping Cal in check. The last three minutes, however, gave the Bears what they needed.

An 11-0 run in the last three minutes capped off a more typical-looking Cal third quarter to give the Bears a 55-53 lead entering the last 10 minutes of action.

UCLA struggled to find its shot in the second half, as the Bruins only converted 32 percent of their field goal attempts. Cal’s own scoring drought, however, kept the Bears from running away with the win.

Asha Thomas’ clutch performance and Kristine Anigwe’s usual greatness had the Bears with a 3-point lead and 42 seconds left. After a scoreless first half, Asha Thomas ended the game with 16 points. Anigwe finished with a double-double for the 12th straight game, with 32 points and 14 rebounds. Most importantly, Anigwe sank all six of her free throw attempts in the fourth quarter despite making just 61.1 percent from the charity stripe on the year.

Just when Cal thought its comeback had earned the team a conference win, UCLA’s Lajahna Drummer was sent to the line with 18 seconds left in the game. Drummer made the first attempt and clanked the second one, but the joy of a missed free throw only lasted for a split second for the Bears, as Michaela Onyenwere put it back to tie the game at 71-71. Onyenwere ended the night with a season-high 29 points to lead the Bruins.

After a timeout, bad offense from the Bears and an early shot by McKenzie Forbes gave the Bruins the chance to call “game,” but they couldn’t find a shot and sent the game into overtime.

A bad start to extra minutes by Cal saw UCLA jump up, 76-71, with less than three minutes to go. Two straight buckets and two steals by Anigwe were answered with an Onyenwere fast break, and Cal’s bench and fans were unhappy with a no-call when Kennedy Burke stripped the ball from Jaelyn Brown in the previous possession.

UCLA had an 80-76 lead with only 24 seconds left, but Thomas gave the Bears hope with a quick three.

Cal then sent Burke to the line, but she did not make a mistake, increasing the Bruins’ lead back to 3 points. In the next possession, Kianna Smith tried for and missed a very tough 3-pointer over defenders, and Japreece Dean iced the game from the charity stripe for a final score of 84-79.

The new year saw another tough loss for the Bears at home, and Sunday’s matchup against USC will be an extremely important chance for Cal to stop the bleeding before it’s too late. The Trojans are a similar-caliber team to the Bruins, if not better, and Sunday’s game will be a test for both teams.

Can Sariöz is an assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @can_sarioz.