Although the Cal women’s basketball team held a comfortable lead throughout the first half of its game against USC, the squad’s second half took a dramatic turn for the worse.
The No. 19 Bears (13-5, 5-2 Pac-12) struggled to find a rhythm after the half Friday night at Haas Pavilion, while the already aggressive Trojans (14-6, 7-1) seemed to get bigger and more physical on the court as the game progressed. USC’s six-foot defenders found a way to slow down the Bears using an effective zone defense, while on offense, Trojan shooting machine Ariya Crook showcased her impressive knack for shooting beyond the arc.
Crook eventually ended the game with a season-high 34 points, after nailing four three-pointers in the second half to carry her team to a 77-70 victory and the No. 2 spot in the Pac-12 standings.
“We shot poorly in the second half, and they became the aggressors,” said Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “They made some big threes at critical times and I think that made up for a lot of things.”
After USC’s Alexyz Vaioletama made the first layup of the game, Cal took control of the court for the remainder of the first half. The inside-outside combo of juniors Reshanda Gray and Brittany Boyd once again proved to be a reliable force on the Bears’ offense, while senior guard Afure Jemerigbe knocked down several jumpers to keep the Trojans at a reasonable distance away from the Bears. Jemerigbe notched 13 points by the end of the first half, at which point Cal led 41-35.
The tide turned at the start of the second half. Although Cal’s quick transition game had served it well in the first half, the team’s inability to shoot even when players had good looks at the basket ultimately led to its downfall. The first three minutes of the half saw several missed layups, turnovers and sloppy ball handling from the Bears, bringing the Trojans to within three points of Cal.
After a visibly angry Gottlieb called for a timeout, the Bears seemed to get their groove back when Boyd finally managed to score a layup on a drive down the court. But their heightened aggression wasn’t enough.
Crook began her three-point shooting spree, eventually helping the Trojans to their first lead of the game, 68-66, since the start of the contest. By the end of the second half, the Bears saw the game slip slowly away from their grasp as the USC team continued to knock down jumpers and free throws to end the game at 77-70.
While Cal tackled its lack of offensive rebounding with forward Gennifer Brandon, who posted a season-high 11 rebounds, the Bears’ inability to connect from beyond the arc severely hindered their chance at another Pac-12 win. Cal shot 1-for-11 from the three-point line, while USC shot 8-for-17 in three-point field goals.
“I saw a lot of good things tonight,” Gottlieb said. “We had 16 offensive rebounds, and we went back to how we like to play. There were a lot of contributions from different people, but they just had one kid that went nuts and made lots of shots, and we didn’t manage the game as well as we could’ve down the stretch.”
Janice Chua covers women’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected].