On Sunday, the Cal women’s basketball team walked into Stanford’s Maples Pavilion, seeking a little revenge. With the Cardinal coming to Cal’s home court and beating the Bears in their last home game of the season, the Bears would have liked nothing more than to return the favor against Stanford, playing in its last home game.
And the Bears did just that.
A defense that forced 17 Cardinal turnovers, Cal was all over No. 18 Stanford and toughed out a 63-53 win as the visiting players swaggered out of enemy territory with a victory.
“Our players are just the most resilient people I know,” said Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “We had some droughts where we didn’t score, and they just got tough, and this is Cal basketball.”
Starting off 4 of 6 from the 3-point range, Cal knew what to do against Stanford’s zone defense. By moving the ball through having perimeter players drive the ball toward the paint to draw the defense in and then kicking the ball back out, the Bears could get all the open 3-pointers they wanted.
In the first 10 minutes of the game, the home team struggled to run offense and set up high-percentage shots. The only time Stanford was successful early was when Cal was caught double-teaming a player, which led to an open three. It took until the 10:57 mark, when Cal was up 18-9, with Brittany McPhee scoring on a layup that Stanford got a basket that wasn’t from beyond the arc.
But just like in Wednesday’s game, the question for the Bears was, where they going to be able to sustain this level of play long enough to win the game?
As the first period rolled on, Stanford went on a run. The Cardinal made it a priority to drive in and challenge the Bears’ rim protectors. That, plus a cold stretch for Cal on offense and Reshanda Gray picking up her second foul, led to the Cardinal finding itself up 29-27.
In the first minute of the second period, the Bears made it clear that they were going to try to get the ball to Gray, their best player. Gray, who only scored two points in the first half, got to work as soon as the clock started running with two straight baskets in the post to put Cal back on top, 31-29.
Although Gray picked up her third foul and had to go back to the bench for a few minutes, the Cardinal missed its first five shots (but made two free throws) and couldn’t take advantage of the nearly four-minute gap when Cal was Gray-less.
As soon as Gray came back in, Stanford went back to putting most of the attention on preventing Gray from establishing post position. Even without having the ball in her hands, Gray was still making plays happen. With the defense’s focus around the paint, the Bears found opportunities outside.
“By them scoring, they were able to keep their spirits up really well,” said Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer about the Bears. “So that helps their defense.”
In addition, Cal also did well on defense, forcing eight second-half Stanford turnovers and rebounding well to limit Cardinal putback opportunities. Although the Bears shot a little less than 40 percent for the game, they could afford to miss some shots because of the extra possessions and shot attempts.
“My job was to get us extra possessions and limit Stanford’s extra possessions,” said Cal senior Brittany Boyd, who had a game-high 13 rebounds.
In addition, the Bears remained aggressive by going at the bodies of Stanford defenders. In the first half, Cal couldn’t get a single free throw. But the team remained persistent and eventually got the whistles, finishing the game 13 for 20 from the line.
With timely open shots produced by Gray’s presence, sloppy and unclutch play from the Cardinal down the stretch and points from the charity stripe, Cal pushed its one-two possession lead into double-digits. In the end, Stanford could not overcome Cal’s gritty showing.
“(Cal basketball is) not perfect. But it’s tough, hard-nosed kids who want to win and do the right thing,” Gottlieb said. “I think our ceiling is very high. I don’t think we’ve hit it yet.”
Ritchie Lee covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].