After double-digit lead, Cal women’s basketball can’t hang on, falling 59-47 to Stanford

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Early on, it seemed like things were going the right way for the Cal women’s basketball team. The Bears were up by double-digits late in the first half, attendance was above average and it seemed like the Bears were on their way to ending their last home game of the season with a “W.”

The game took a drastic turn in the second half, however, when Stanford started hitting its shots and Cal, who played all its starters nearly the entire way, started playing sluggishly. Despite the early fireworks, Wednesday’s game ended in disappointment for the home team as the Cardinal eased its way to a 59-47 victory.

“We’re just disappointed obviously,” said head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “We’re way past the point of feeling good about having a competitive game.”

In the opening minutes, there was a lid on both baskets. With Cal playing man defense and Stanford playing a zone to keep the ball out of the paint, the game started out very slowly offensively. Despite the defense from both teams, the Cardinal had the upper hand thanks to seven quick points from Lili Thompson. Within the first seven minutes of the game, Stanford had an 11-2 run.

But it wouldn’t take long for the Bears to respond and figure things out offensively. With the Cardinal screens starting to open things up against Cal’s half-court defense, Gottlieb went with a different approach by calling a full-court trap to force a couple turnovers. And, as has been the trend for the Bears this year, turnovers led to points.

Once Cal started forcing some stops, everything started clicking for the home team. Stanford’s pick-and-rolls weren’t going anywhere, and the Bears were starting to make things very stressful for the Cardinal ball-handlers. The Bears were getting opportunities off transition and with ball movement against Stanford’s zone, Cal was starting get off high-percentage shots with all the Cardinal defenders focused on guarding the paint.

“There was a point there where we were really moving the ball as well as we have,” Gottlieb said. “And it resulted in a good run there. And that’s when we took more threes.”

In the last 10 minutes of the first period, the Cardinal was playing like it was asleep. Forcing nine first-half Stanford turnovers and letting the Cardinal throw up bricks to go 1-9 from beyond the arc, Cal jumped on Stanford and had a lead of 13 at one point. The only downside for the Bears was how they closed it out when they allowed Stanford’s Brittany McPhee to score all six of her points in the last three minutes, including a mini 4-0 run by herself to end the first half and cut the game to a single-digit lead of 32-23.

But the Bears wouldn’t be able to sustain their control of the game. Going through another scoring drought similar to how the team started the game, Stanford quickly climbed its way back into the game through a couple layups and a few 3-pointers. With just more than 14 minutes left, the score was back to being neck-and-neck at 40-39.

As the second-half rolled on, both teams were getting points the way they were comfortable with. When they had the chance, the Cardinal excelled in the half-court moving the ball off pick-and-rolls to create space for its shooters outside. While on the other side, things were different. The Bears, who were colder than Alaska from the half-court, were most efficient scoring when they were getting easy layups off forced turnovers.

“The second-half we weren’t making shots,” Gottlieb said. “And at some point, Stanford’s too good to not score for long stretches of time.”

But with Stanford starting to heat up and scoring at a high-percentage every time, transition baskets did not happen often. And with Courtney Range being the only nonstarter to see minutes, it seemed like a combination of tempo and stamina was starting to let the game slip away for Cal.

The Bears scored just 15 points in the entire second half on 11 percent shooting. The Cardinal dominated on both ends of the court and what started off like a celebratory night for the home team playing its last game this season at Haas Pavilion ended up being a routine win for Stanford.

“Not scoring has a lot of impacts, and one of them is they get to be more comfortable on the offensive end,” Gottlieb said. “Can’t win a lot of games shooting 15-55. There’s not really a way around that.”

Ritchie Lee covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].