The USC women’s basketball team might look pretty in pink, but on Sunday, the Cal women’s basketball team was the only colorful gem of the afternoon.
The No. 6 Bears defeated USC, 72-64, at the Galen Center in Los Angeles, where the Trojans wore pink to raise awareness for breast cancer. The victory guaranteed the Bears a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Championship tournament in March.
Cal (23-2, 13-1) quickly took the upper edge with three consecutive long-range bombs. Afure Jemerigbe started it off, and Brittany Boyd followed shortly after with her own pair of 3-pointers. In a mere three minutes, the Bears had built an 11-2 lead against the hapless Trojans (8-17, 5-9).
While Cal tried to set up a comfortable cushion, it continued to upend its own efforts with foul trouble. Three separate Bears notched several fouls, giving USC the opportunity to scratch back to a one-possession game. A couple of successful drives by Trojan forwards soon turned the game back to a close 13-10 score.
“It was a physical game, and my shots are more contested than usual,” guard Layshia Clarendon said. “They’re always a tough matchup for us.”
Luckily for the Bears, they had the forwards to shoulder the burden. On a tough shooting night for many of the Bears’ bigs, at least one remained strong.
Substitute Reshanda Gray quickly asserted her presence with a couple of rebounds and four points in a few minutes’ work. By the 12:07 mark, the lead had ballooned back to 21-10.
While Gray played well — with nine points and nine boards on the night — Cal’s other frontcourt players lagged behind. Gennifer Brandon only recorded four points total in a 1-for-3 shooting. Talia Caldwell, who scored 34 total points over the last weekend, was ice-cold, scoring zero points off five shot attempts in 14 minutes.
But Cal’s backcourt shined. The guards, as a group, shot 43.5 percent in the first half and kept the Bears’ lead hovering around double digits throughout the rest of the first half.
Jemerigbe led all players with 10 points in the first half, while Boyd and Clarendon each added nine points. Behind their stellar play, Cal entered halftime with a 38-29 lead.
The Trojans couldn’t shrink the deficit after halftime. With a deep bench, the Bears never ran out of energy, maintaining an 11-point lead into the final five minutes. The Cal bench would outscore USC’s 19-8 for the game.
The Trojans had just one last trick up their sleeves heading into the final few minutes. Cal blundered, and USC took advantage, resulting in a couple of turnovers and failed possessions that peaked with a technical foul by Gray. With the air momentarily out of their sails, the Bears allowed USC to inch within 63-59 with 1:56 remaining.
But the Bears turned to their defense again, propelling their lead back to eight. Four offensive boards in the final minute ensured Cal multiple trips to the free-throw line and its first SoCal sweep in five years.
Vincent Tzeng covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]