After last season’s Final Four run, Cal women’s basketball fails to duplicate success this past season

Patrick Chong/Staff

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At the beginning of the season, Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb said the Cal women’s basketball team had the “potential to be a championship team.”

Naturally, the Bears fostered high expectations after a breakthrough season last year in which the Cal squad constructed a remarkable 32-4 season, spearheaded by then-star senior and current WNBA guard Layshia Clarendon. Cal’s 2012-13 season culminated in spectacular postseason fashion with the Bears’ earning their first Pac-12 conference championship as well as the first Final Four appearance in school history.

Despite losing four talented seniors this year, the Cal squad retained reliable veterans in seniors Afure Jemerigbe and Gennifer Brandon and juniors Brittany Boyd and Reshanda Gray.

But the Bears just could not conjure up the same success they had last year.

As the season progressed, it became increasingly apparent that the No. 24 Cal squad (22-10) did not possess the same offensively dominating flare last year’s team did. While the Bears understandably fell to some of the nation’s top-five teams including then-No. 2 Duke, then-No. 1 Connecticut and two losses to then-No. 4 Stanford — Cal also suffered home losses to teams that were definite underdogs in the matchups.

On Nov. 15, unranked George Washington upset the then-No.10 Bears in a narrow 75-72 stunner, even after Cal held a seven-point halftime lead. In January, the Bears fell to both Arizona State and USC, whose star point guard Ariya Crook managed to notch a career-high 34 points to lead her team to a 77-70 win over the struggling Cal squad.

Cal’s matchup against Washington on March 1 displayed a Cal squad without its natural on-court leader in Boyd, who took up space on the bench due to injury. Even Jemerigbe’s career-high 24 points were not enough to reel in a final regular-season win in their home court, as the Bears once again fell in a close 70-65 loss to the Huskies.

One week later, Cal exited the Pac-12 tournament in the second round even with its star ball-handler back on the court, ending the Bears’ seven-year streak of advancing to the conference tournament semifinal.

Although the season pinpointed weaknesses of Cal’s play that emerged in the absence of Clarendon in the backcourt, it also highlighted individual performances that have consistently kept the Bears in the nation’s top 25 all season.

Jemerigbe’s role as a reliable shooter from beyond the arc and in the paint saved the Bears in crucial times, most notably during Cal’s matchup against Colorado on Jan. 10 in which the senior guard scored the game-winning layup.

Brandon has shown her prowess throughout the season in offensive and defensive rebounding, while Gray led the team with 16.8 average points per game — notching most of her points in the paint assisted by fellow junior Boyd.

Despite the loss of raw talent, the Bears’ fight was there all season, evident in Boyd’s leadership on the court. With 185 assists, 89 steals and 14.7 average points per game, Boyd orchestrated the flow of a majority of Cal’s games, exhibiting a dominant coast-to-coast effort coupled with her fast-paced transition play.

The Bears most recently fell to No. 2 seed Baylor in the round of 32 of the NCAA tournament, ending a commendable season not as another Final Four contender, but with the potential to be one next season with Boyd and Gray at the helm.

Janice Chua covers women’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected].