Cal pounds away to easy victory over Illinois

After four and a half minutes of sloppy offense against Illinois, the Cal women’s basketball team got its first big break when guard Lindsay Sherbert drained the first 3-pointer from the corner.

Twenty-three seconds later, Sherbert went back to the exact same spot and scored again, widening the lead, 11-5. Sherbert’s two threes sparked a 10-0 run, and the Bears (2-1) ran away with the game on Sunday afternoon to win, 80-56, at Haas Pavilion.

Reminiscent of the Sacramento State victory last Thursday, Cal pounded the ball inside to manufacture its points. Employing their depth at the forward and center positions, the Bears chiseled 42 points inside the paint.

With center Talia Caldwell getting in foul trouble early in the game, Cal turned to freshman Justine Hartman to provide the inside presence for much of the first half. Unlike Caldwell who normally powers inside the lane, Hartman showed more variety in her shots to lead the team with 17 points.

“I think I contribute to the post game with my inside game and the mid-range jumper,” Hartman said. “My jumpers help open space inside the post.”

Hartman’s mid-range jumpers had a domino effect in opening shooting opportunities for the Bears. With Hartman luring the opposing post player outside the paint, fellow Cal forwards Reshanda Gray and Gennifer Brandon pounded inside for easy lay-ups.

Although the aggressive style of the squad’s bigs gave the team a healthy 36-25 lead into halftime, it started to backfire in the second half.

Like Caldwell, the other post players put themselves in foul trouble and gave the Illini (2-3) life with a rapid succession of free throws. In the first seven minutes of the half, the lead was cut from 11 to six, and the opposing bench had a sudden jolt of excitement.

“We obviously don’t want people in foul trouble, but we are not going to back down on our physicality,” Cal coach Lindsey Gottlieb said. “We want to play good positional defense and not give up any cheap fouls, but we weren’t going to relent in being aggressive.”

But then, to the misery of Illinois, came Brittany Boyd. Despite a slow first half, Boyd carried the Bears on an 11-4 run, dissecting the Illini’s defense as if she was playing street basketball, scoring 10 points and four assists in the second half.

Boyd’s performance opened the match for every player around her from forwards like Hartman to 3-point shooters like guard Layshia Clarendon. Cal’s lead ballooned up to 20 points, virtually ending the game.

To Gottlieb, this victory met nearly all her expectations of the team. As her philosophies of building their game around the post players were finally put into action, Gottlieb left Haas Pavilion very satisfied of the win.

“These are the kind of games that I can smile about,” Gottlieb said. “We always talk about how deep our post depth, and we really saw that today.”