Cal escapes Arizona duel with 78-74 OT win

Sean Goebel/File
Junior center Talia Caldwell notched 10 rebounds and 17 points across 36 minutes in Thursday’s overtime contest.

For the second time in less than a week, the Cal women’s basketball team was heading into overtime in unfamiliar territory.

Those two overtime games looked surprisingly similar, with two underdogs stealing the second half. But the difference between the Bears’ opponents is night and day.

Last Saturday, Cal launched a 22-8 comeback run against Stanford that sent a Maples Pavilion game into extra minutes for the first time since 2007. In that contest, the Bears battered an impenetrable Stanford in its closest win of the season.

But at the McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz., on Thursday night, the Bears were the ones who sputtered in the face of a 22-point run.

Cal finally clinched the tilt at the end of extra minutes to cobble a 78-74 win and deliver Arizona its fifth consecutive loss.

But for the majority of the second half, the contest was up in the air. Cal utterly collapsed before Arizona, the worst squad in the conference, and watched as a 14-point lead at the start of the second half nightmarishly became a seven-point deficit.

The Bears didn’t have a solid grasp of the game until the halftime buzzer, when they entered the locker room with a 12-point cushion. But up until the final minutes of first half, Arizona repeatedly halved 10-point deficits before Cal would widen the margin once more.

When freshman Reshanda Gray broke through Arizona’s man-to-man and nabbed the first points of the second period, it looked like Cal would quietly dominate the rest of the contest.

But that mindset overlooked one key factor: Cal isn’t a great road team. A sweep in Los Angeles at the end of 2011 was deemed a disastrous fluke, but a 4-2 road record against conference rivals now speaks otherwise.

Yet it still came as a surprise when Cal virtually unraveled in the face of Arizona guards Davellyn Whyte and Shanita Arnold, who exploded with 17 and 18 points, respectively.

There is one statistic that tells the tale of the game better than any other: the Wildcats’ eight 3-pointers, four of which came from Arnold.

It was the string of three sudden shots beyond the arc that gave the home team its first lead of the game with a little over 11 minutes left in the second half.

The Bears’ lead had already vanished in the face of Arizona’s 22-5 drive, and a 3-pointer from Erin Butler brought the score within two points. Then, in less than a minute, Whyte and Arnold both knocked back threes to stun Cal and take the lead.

Cal was rattled, and remained so for the remainder of regulation. The two teams fought through three more lead changes before Cal tied the game on a jumper from an exhausted Brittany Boyd.

Overtime was anticlimactic at best, with Cal finally grasping the win it should have easily stolen.

The Bears’ next contest, against a hot-handed Arizona State on Saturday, won’t be any easier.