Post advantage propels Bears to win in home opener

After a week of unrest throughout the campus, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau was probably hoping that whatever free time he did have could be spent in the least stressful way possible.

Luckily for him, the Cal women’s basketball team did not cause him any additional grief, as they took care of business against Sacramento State, winning 85-61, as Birgeneau watched.

Cal’s inside game was commanding throughout the game, as Sacramento State (0-3) was physically dominated for forty minutes. Center Talia Caldwell led the way with 17 points and 11 rebounds, and freshman Reshanda Gray added 15 and 8 off the bench for the Bears (1-1).

“Our post group could be scary good,” coach Lindsay Gottlieb said.

The Cal post effort stood out in a game that was marked by sloppy play on both sides. Early in the game, turnovers plagued the Bear offense, although it was immediately clear that the team had a sizable height advantage.

Part of the early trouble was due to Sacramento State’s high-pressure defense, which ranged from a 1-2-1-1 press that the team showcased early to jumping Cal ball handlers at half court.

“I really credit Sac State for playing hard in every situation,” Gottlieb said. “Even if they are losing, they are still playing hard.”

The team’s performance against the press is likely to be scrutinized, especially after Cal fell victim to Rutgers’ infamous 55 press in a three-point loss on Sunday.

Although Gottlieb was pleased that the team got a win in their home opener, she stood firm in her belief that the squad was far from its potential on the court.

“A Picasso, it was not,” she quipped.

Cal’s performance from three-point land stood out on the stat sheet as a glaring negative from the game. The team made only 2 of its 19 attempts, despite the fact that the Hornet’s defense collapsed on the inside, handing shooters open looks.

Retrospectively, Gottlieb believed that the team should have eschewed the three in favor of inside looks, especially since post players Caldwell, Gray and Justine Hartman combined to shoot 23-30 from the field.

The Bears’ defense was particularly stingy, especially in the first half, when Sacramento State shot under thirty percent. Led by pugnacious freshman guard Brittany Boyd (who hails from Berkeley High School), the Bears bodied any Hornet daring enough to take the ball up court. Fantasia Hillard, Sacramento State’s starting guard, committed nine turnovers on the game.

The relationship between the game’s stars – Caldwell and Grey – may key the attitude of Gottlieb’s team in her inaugural campaign. Both boisterous on the hardwood, the junior Caldwell has mentored her fellow Angeleno. The two combined for only three rebounds against Rutgers, a statistic that they were reluctant to forget, even after Thursday’s win.

“Talia’s like my mother in the post.” Gray said of Caldwell. “When I got here, she said ‘Come to me my baby, I’m going to guide you.’”