Cal’s hot start leads to comfortable win over Gaels

Since the start of the season, the Cal women’s basketball team has attributed its early success to dominant post play. But when the post advantage was neutralized by the St. Mary’s defense Thursday night, the Bears (7-2) had to look beyond the arc for some answers.

In an uncharacteristic 65-55 victory, Cal made it rain in McKeon Pavilion in Moraga, Calif., draining eight 3-pointers in the first half. The Bears’ perimeter shooting was like night and day compared to last Sunday’s contest against UNLV, when they shot 1-for-10 from behind the 3-point line.

“Most games, even when teams have played zone, we have been able to pound it inside,” Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “Tonight, they were so packed in, our shooters were wide open.”

From the opening moments, Cal looked strong on both sides of the court. In the Bears’ first possession, guard Layshia Clarendon hit her first of three 3-pointers. Ten seconds later, fellow guard Brittany Boyd forced a turnover, rewarding herself with an easy layup.

With a 5-0 lead in the first 30 seconds, it was to be a long night for the Gaels. With seven of the first eight field goals coming behind the 3-point line, the Bears’ lead quickly piled up to 18 points by the 4:40 mark. Despite St. Mary’s 8-0 run in between, the kindling momentum was drowned out by Cal’s 3-point outpour.

After going into the locker room with a 38-24 lead, the Bears were not the same in the second half. The Bears’ red-hot perimeter shooting was silenced by the Gaels’ defense, attempting only two compared to 13 in the first half. Cal had to look back inside the paint for offensive answers.

While the Bears were still adjusting to the scrappier St. Mary’s defense in the first eight minutes of the second half, the Gaels took advantage to slim the lead back down to seven. Gottlieb immediately called a timeout to rally her troops to somehow stem St. Mary’s newly found momentum.

Cal started to click again right after the timeout, as Boyd dished one of her six assists to forward Gennifer Brandon for a layup on the ensuing possession. The bucket sparked a 12-2 run for the next six minutes, effectively crushing the Gaels’ chance for a comeback in front of their home crowd.

“I thought at the start of the second half, our intensity waned a little bit and Saint Mary’s came out with something to prove,” Gottlieb said. “They were physical. They were scrappy and I don’t think we responded to that as well as we can.”

Boyd and Clarendon led the team in scoring with 15 and 14 points, respectively, but it was the 11-point performance of guard Afure Jemerigbe that was the most encouraging sight for Gottlieb and the Bears. Obscured for most of the season after a string of mediocre performances, Jemerigbe showed improvement in her shooting.

But still, the victory had its flaws for Cal, most notably the disappearance of its perimeter offense in the second half. The players acknowledged these blemishes after the game despite the satisfaction of getting the win.

“They wrote on the board, ‘This wasn’t the prettiest win, but we’ll take it,’” Gottlieb said. “We did some really good things early, but I don’t think we finished the game the way we needed to.”