Cal women’s basketball dominates Austin Peay State, 67-58, in season opener

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Austin Peay State has the ball with less than a minute to play. It’s down, 58-63, so this is a crucial possession. Cal sophomore guard Gabby Green, at 6-foot-2, uses her size to smother the inbound passer. The ball leaves the passer’s hands, and Green comes up with the steal. Green’s defense seals the game for Cal women’s basketball, which ended up winning, 67-58, to start the season 1-0.

On Friday, the Bears opened their season on the road in Clarksville, Tennessee, against the Lady Governors. Though Cal was favored heading into the matchup, it fought hard to earn the victory. Going into the half, the Bears held just a two-point lead. A strong third quarter put Cal ahead by 13 points, but APSU wouldn’t go away easily. Timely buckets and strong three-point shooting allowed APSU to cut down Cal’s lead down to as low as five points, but the Bears came out on top in the end.

The game was very physical, with some rough play from both teams. Loose balls frequently led to multiple players scrapping to get to the ball and secure possession. Both teams fought surprisingly hard for a game so early in the season, and the battles for loose balls were evidence of that.

One of the Bears’ biggest advantages all game was their size. Cal won the rebounding battle by a sizeable margin, 50-42. But the most significant consequence of their size was their ability to collect offensive rebounds — often multiple times in the same play. The Bears finished the game with 22 offensive rebounds to APSU’S 13 and outscored APSU on second-chance points, 13-2. Freshman Kristine Anigwe, who was ranked as the No. 8 recruit of the year, scored 11 points in her debut and went 4/15 shooting. Her shooting percentage can be misleading, however, because many of her missed shots were on putbacks, so her inefficiency from the field wasn’t as big of a detriment to the team. 6-foot-4 Anigwe and Green were tenacious rebounders and created second — sometimes even third and fourth — chances on a number of possessions for the team.

Shooting-wise, neither team had a great night. Cal finished with a slightly better efficiency, shooting 35 percent from the field compared to APSU’s 34 percent. But the Bears’ struggles from three-point territory (4/20) hindered their offense, and their inability to convert free-throws was especially concerning. Cal shot just 13-23 from the free-throw line.

Despite an unimpressive shooting night, APSU was able to stay competitive because of the efforts of senior guard Tiasha Gray, who gave the Bears’ defense all kinds of problems. Gray showcased her polished offensive game, scoring from inside and outside throughout the game. She finished with a team-leading 28-point performance, converting on five triples at an impressive 50 percent from long range. Aside from Gray, only one other Lady Governor scored in double-figures: starting center Tearra Banks with 10 points.

For Cal, the offensive performance was a balanced effort by the starting lineup. Junior Courtney Range, one of only two upperclassmen on the roster, led the way with 23 points on an efficient 10/17 shooting. Green, Anigwe and freshman guard Asha Thomas also scored in double figures as well. The blend of contributions from returning players and new recruits was an assuring sign for the Bears, and they’ll need to continue to see strong performances across the board to be a strong offensive team.

Kapil Kashyap covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]