Bears survive close first half for 75-58 victory

The freshmen on the Cal women’s basketball team are explosive. Brittany Boyd has already cemented a spot in the starting lineup, while Rashanda Gray captured the Cal Classic MVP last weekend. Headlined by Justine Hartman and Erica Johnson, the nation’s seventh-best recruiting class sees major minutes and critical plays in every game.

But in Saturday’s 75-58 win over Santa Clara, the veterans were the ones to light up Haas Pavilion.

“There’s going to be plenty of times when it’s Boyd and Gray finishing plays and making plays,” coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “We love our youngsters, but we are not the team that we can be without our veterans.”

Cal (8-2) opened up the contest on a nine-point run, entirely the product of jumpers from sophomore Afure Jemerigbe and junior Talia Caldwell. The Broncos (7-3) didn’t sink a shot until five minutes into the game.

Santa Clara couldn’t find space inside the paint, but that didn’t stop the squad from chipping away at Cal’s lead. Back-to-back 3-pointers from the Santa Clara squad in the sixth minute cut Cal’s lead from nine points to three. At the eight-minute mark, the visitors took their first and only lead of the game.

“I think we were tested,” Gottlieb said. “I knew we’d be tested, because that team can hit shots. We had to respond in a way that we really haven’t yet. We haven’t been down in a while.”

But junior guard Eliza Pierre responded in seconds with a jumper to tie the game once more. Shortly after, a post shot from Caldwell launched the Bears on a 12-point run to close the half.

The second half was a mirror act, with one crucial difference: Cal is a second-half team. The squad continually manages to launch comebacks or widen leads, digging through its deep bench to refresh the court. For the second time this season the Bears held an opponent to its lowest final score thus far.

Defensively, the opponents unleashed a gritty man-to-man that denied the Bears to opportunity to drive in and out of the paint.

With a reduced post game, Cal looked to the boards. The Beras have outrebounded their opponents at the boards in every game this season to earn the third-best rebound margin in the country.

This tilt was no different — Cal virtually shut down the majority of Santa Clara’s second chances and dominated with 61 of their own on offense.

Redshirt sophomore Gennifer Brandon, the leader in team rebounds, came off the bench early in the first half to boost the Bears. In 16 total minutes she earned her second double-double of the season with 11 rebounds and 13 points.

“The last thing I said to Gen, I said, ‘Hey Gen, here’s what I want you to do: Run fast and jump high, and go have fun doing it,’” Gottlieb said. “So I think that that had a big impact.”

Defensive boards directly contributed to quick transitions. As a squad that prides itself on speed and athleticism, Cal drove the length of the court for bucket after bucket. Junior guards Layshia Clarendon and Eliza Pierre found the majority of their 24 combined points either through direct drives or fastbreak assists. Across an exhausting 35 minutes Clarendon yielded 13 points and four steals, as well as two second-half 3-pointers that solidified a home team lead.

“You don’t always have a 30-point lead in the first 12 minutes, you have to grind it out sometimes,” Gottlieb said.