Cal women’s basketball overcomes poor first half in Senior Day thriller

Kay Yang/Staff

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On Sunday, the No. 6 Cal women’s basketball team survived the trap game that every elite team has to face.

The Bears (25-2, 15-1 in Pac-12), with Pac-12 title hopes and No. 1 seed aspirations in March Madness, matched up against Oregon State, a conference bottom-dweller and a squad with little to play for except pride.

Oregon State (9-19, 3-13) led for most of the 40-minute contest. But in the end, Cal rallied emotionally and escaped with the 58-56 victory on Senior Day.

“We take a message from every game, and this match was about our toughness and resolve,” Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “Even though this was more of a struggle than was predicted, I am as proud with this win as anything else we have won this year.”

Cal did not play like an elite team for the first nine minutes of the game, shooting under 25 percent from the field and finding itself down 9-4.

Oregon State, on the other hand, shot lights out from behind the three-point arc, nailing six of its 12 attempts in the first half. At the 9:13 mark, Beavers forward Jamie Weisner nailed a corner three to push the Beavers’ advantage to 12 points.

The Bears just could not seem to find the bottom of the net, with every shot teasing the crowd. Guard Layshia Clarendon took a jumper from the elbow that was halfway down before it surprisingly bounced out.

“We had shots rim out; they had everything go in,” Gottlieb said. “This was the first time we weren’t scoring while our opponent was scoring for an extended amount of time.”

At the half, Cal was losing 30-18, a new season low scoring output in a half. The previous low had been 20 at Duke back on Dec. 2.

“At halftime, I said ‘Only some people are champions — only so many people are great,’” Clarendon said. “‘This is a test of our character, so are we going to fold or are we going to respond?’”

The Bears came out with renewed intensity in the second half, employing a full-court press that caused offensive fits for the Beavers.

It was then Brittany Boyd’s time to take over.

On consecutive defensive possessions, Boyd stole the ball from an Oregon State guard. On the first steal, Boyd dove to get the ball and found Gennifer Brandon streaking for a layup. Seconds later, Boyd stole the ball cleanly, sprinted up the court and converted a layup and a foul.

Despite struggling with her shooting, going 3-for-11 from the field, the sophomore contributed in ways that didn’t show up in the final score.

“Boyd changed the feel of the game,” Gottlieb said. “Her intensity was a tremendous lift.”

Boyd’s defense brought the Bears within five by the 15:16 mark. Then center Talia Caldwell muscled her way up for a putback after an offensive rebound, pulling Cal to a 46-44 score.

The Bears took their first lead since the 18:05 mark in the first half when Brandon hit a jumper at the six-minute mark. The score was 50-49, bringing Haas Pavilion to its feet.

Cal didn’t concede the slim lead for the rest of the game.

“This team dug in and said ‘this is not happening today,’” Gottlieb said.

Austin Crochetiere covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].