Holding Washington State scoreless for the last five minutes of the game, the Cal women’s basketball team and its clutch defense played well enough to come away with a win at home.
Although the Bears (17-5, 8-2 Pac-12) looked to be in control early, the Cougars turned things around in the second half, erasing a 12-point deficit and tying the game at 52 with five minutes left in the game. In the end, however, the Bears’ defense responded accordingly, playing shutdown defense to escape with the narrow 57-54 win.
“Credit to our players — I believe they can (play good defense) every possession in every game,” said head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “When it was crunch time and the other team was feeling good, we locked them up.”
Early on, the Bears made Washington State (13-8, 4-6 Pac-12) work for every point it could get in the paint. Whenever a Cougar attempted a shot inside, she was met by a swarm of defenders protecting the paint. In the past, this strategy has been a problem because it leaves open shooters on the perimeter.
Fortunately for Cal, however, Washington State struggled with shooting the ball all game and could not capitalize on the Bears’ interior-focused defense. It also didn’t help that the Cougars were also sloppy with the ball.
Washington State finished the first half with ugly numbers on the stat sheet. A combination of disciplined rim protection from Cal and poor decision making from the Cougars led to 19 first-half points on 21.9-percent shooting and nine turnovers for Washington State. With their opponents showing no signs of offensive life, the Bears, it seemed, were in a great position to add to their lead and get an easy blowout win.
The Cougars, however, weren’t ready to call it quits after just one bad half. With a quick 6-0 Washington State run within the first two minutes, Cal’s lead was cut in half: just 31-25. As the second half dragged on, guard Lia Galdeira got hot, scoring 18 points and making eight of her first 10 shots in the second half. Finishing with 29 points on 13-28 shooting, Galdeira carried the team, as she had the Cougars playing with an extra bounce to their step. The Bears looked like the ones who were struggling to keep up.
“We sort of knew we just had to stick with forcing tough shots,” Gottlieb said. “I mean, Lia out there probably hits tough shots more than most female basketball players. But you have to stick with not giving them easy ones.”
With the Cougars making an adjustment on defense and making senior guard Brittany Boyd and senior forward Reshanda Gray get rid of the ball, Cal had problems responding in the half court. In addition, the Bears also had fewer fast-break chances because of Galdeira’s big second half. Boyd became the Bears’ all-time assists leader, with a new record of 671.
As close and stressful as things got, however, Cal toughed it out on defense when it had to: Washington State couldn’t score a single point to finish the game. It wasn’t even as if the Bears were good on offense. Neither team made an field goal in the last five minutes. There was one moment when Galdeira had a wide-open layup in transition, with less than a minute left. But her attempt rolled off the rim as she missed a huge opportunity to give the Cougars the lead.
“We couldn’t score either, so we needed to do it, and we just got enough separation with a couple big baskets and some free throws,” Gottlieb said.
Ritchie Lee covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].