That is the only way to describe the Cal women’s basketball team’s sentiment following its upset at the hands of No. 14 UCLA in the semifinal of the Pac-12 tournament. The Bears fully expected a rematch with No. 4 Stanford in the title match and a chance to steal a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney away from the Cardinal.
However, the Bruins had different plans.
On Saturday night in Seattle, Wash., UCLA (25-6, 16-4 in the Pac-12) stomped the Bears into the ground with a 70-58 victory, ending Cal’s 16-game win streak.
The story of the game was simple: the Bears’ inability to break the Bruin zone defense.
All season long, teams elected to give the Cal guards plenty of space to shoot around the perimeter. This decision allowed teams to drop more players to the paint to help slow down forward Gennifer Brandon and center Talia Caldwell.
Although Cal (28-3,18-2) has still found ways to win in the past, UCLA finally perfected the formula.
During an eight-minute stretch in the first half, the Bears were held without a single field goal. The zone was making the Bears uncomfortable, reflected in their 20 percent shooting performance in the first half and six second-chance points.
“Sometimes we shoot really well, and sometimes we clean up misses on the glass,” said Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “It was a little bit of both evils, because we were missing shots and not getting rebounds.”
While Cal was having offensive fits, the Bruins were having their way with the ball in their hands.
In the first half, the Bruins shot 56 percent from the field, using their speed to keep the Bears’ defense on its heels. Although UCLA only had two fastbreak points in the first frame, the team’s 22 points in the paint speaks to the fact that they were out and running.
“I looked at the sheet at halftime, and it said two fast break points, but it didn’t feel that way,” Gottlieb said. “We never could get set up.”
At halftime, the Bears trailed 35-14. Adjustments were made in the intermission, but the UCLA lead was too much to overcome.
“(The Bruins) were well prepared,” guard Layshia Clarendon said. “You can’t give a good team a 21-point lead; they’re just too good.”
Clarendon did all she could to bring her team back in the second half. The senior finished with 14 points but shot 6-for-22.
The Bears put together a 9-0 run midway through the second frame to cut the Bruins’ lead to 16. But that was the extent of Cal’s comeback.
When the final buzzer sounded on Cal’s worst loss of the season, the Bears walked off the court, heads hung and lacking the confidence the team has exuded all season long.
In the team’s final tuneup for the NCAA tourney, Cal fell flat. Instead this loss serves another purpose for the Bears.
“This doesn’t ruin our season in any way at all,” Clarendon said. “We talked about it being more of a wake-up call. If anything, it will make us more hungry for the tournament.”
Austin Crochetiere covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].