It would have been a moment filled with electricity. Players would have screamed with joy, fans would have jumped out of their seats into the stands, and Oski would have finally looked like mascots are supposed to — the baskets cut down, while the players put on their brand new apparel. These are the moments they show over and over, the ones in the flashbacks from years past, the moments that are remembered as the greats.
While the Cal women’s basketball team may have deserved this type of moment, it did not come. When the 2014-15 team is mentioned, no one will say, “Wow. They were great — those were the days” or “Good golly, that was a team!” They just won’t.
So, back to reality: Oski’s hands will remain clasped behind his back, and his cardigan will stay the same, at least for the time being. But more importantly, the season is over for the Bears — without celebration. In fact, their season ended in a defeat on their own court.
While the NCAA tournament continues for some of the college women’s basketball world, the journey stopped over a week ago for the Bears.
The journey started with a team surrounded by hype and attention. With two of the top players in the country — senior forward Reshanda Gray and senior guard Brittany Boyd — and plenty of young talent, Cal started out the season ranked as the No. 15 team in the country. And for a while, the Bears proved that they belonged in the spot and that they deserved it. Winning their first eight games, the Bears appeared ready to embrace and use the talent of the squad, moving up to as high as No. 10 in the rankings.
The first loss of Cal’s season to Kansas in early December marked a change. In the game, sophomore forward Courtney Range went down with a left-knee injury and would go on to miss seven games, of which the Bears lost three. Two out of the three losses were to tough opponents that Cal was not expected to conquer at that point. But the third, to Long Beach State, was a perfect example of everything that went wrong with Cal’s season.
Losing in overtime to a team that has not defeated a ranked opponent since its 2005-06 campaign was shocking. Cal should have handled Long Beach State easily then moved on. Instead, it couldn’t meet expectations and watched another team celebrate an impressive victory, which would become a theme.
An overall successful Pac-12 regular season (13-5) ended up giving Cal some confidence going into the postseason. But when your last regular-season game ends in watching Oregon State celebrate its victory in the regular-season championship, it doesn’t feel so good.
Despite this, Cal was still able to make its way to the Pac-12 Tournament Finals against Stanford and just narrowly missed walking away with the victory. Again, the confetti wasn’t falling for the Bears.
But Cal was given the gift of hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament in the Haas Pavilion, in front of its fans. The Bears earned it, because despite all of their losses that could or should have been victories, they played hard enough to earn that right.
A loss to a tough Texas team in the second round, however, made that honor meaningless. But it wasn’t because the Bears didn’t want it. In almost every single game in the second half of Cal’s season, it was very clear Cal wanted to win. In the end, the Bears were just outmatched.
Boyd and Gray deserved a better ending than this. They deserved a bigger crowd at Haas Pavilion and a longer run in the tournament. Boyd will end her career as a Bear averaging 13.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 2.9 steals per game. Gray, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, averaged 17.4 points and 7.1 rebounds this year alone. Both are expected to be in the top five of the WNBA draft in April and are currently nominated for numerous awards. But their performances this season cannot be reflected in statistics or words.
The team they leave behind will not have a senior on it. Having only 10 players on the team this past year was a major issue, as the team showed fatigue near the end of games. That number likely won’t change by much, but the team will have rising stars who have had breakout seasons — especially sophomore guard Mercedes Jefflo, who averaged only 9.7 points per game this year but has shown to be very effective in shooting 3-pointers. The rest of the team have had their moments this year, playing especially well in the final game against Texas.
While this season may not be mentioned in history books, two players will be. After a season filled with “what could have been,” the dominance and success of Boyd and Gray should be remembered instead.
Alaina Getzenberg covers women’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected]