As soon as the referee threw the ball into the air to start the game, Cal’s size advantage was unmistakable. Freshman Kristine Anigwe, standing at 6 feet 4 inches, towered over Sacramento State’s 6-foot tall Margaret Huntington and was easily able to direct the ball to a teammate with her tip.
On Sunday, Cal women’s basketball (6-2) used its size to dominate Sacramento State (1-5) in the consolation game of the Cal Tournament, after a heartbreaking one-point loss to Saint Mary’s on Saturday removed the Bears from contention for the championship. Cal controlled the matchup from the start, building a 16-point lead in the first quarter and ultimately winning the game, 117-99. The standout performance of the game belonged to Anigwe, who exploded for a double-double with 43 points on an efficient 18-24 from the field, along with 13 rebounds.
“Kristine was ridiculous in her finishing,” said Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “But really also proud of (Mikayla Cowling) and Gabby (Green) and Courtney (Range) and (Asha Thomas) and the rest of them who were so unselfish. We just got the ball where it needed to go.”
Cal was able to score with ease, setting a program record with 117 points as a result of its ability to exploit the Hornets’ full-court press. On every defensive rebound, Sacramento State swarmed the Bears’ rebounder with two or three defenders, leaving the rest of the team open to streak down the court for easy buckets in transition.
Despite playing press throughout the game, Sacramento State wasn’t able to force many turnovers. Instead, most of the Bears’ 26 turnovers came as a result of errant outlet passes. Cal was quick to recognize mismatches around the basket and threw long passes to try to take advantage of them. This strategy was generally successful, as evident by the Bears’ 28 fastbreak points, but sloppy passes by Cal gave the Hornets some extra possessions.
The Bears’ lead, however, ballooned because of Sacramento State’s unreliable three-point shooting. The Hornets’ offense relies heavily on the three-point shot, so their struggles from deep meant they were unable to score consistently. Coming into Sunday, the Hornets averaged 37.8 three-point attempts per game, a mark they eclipsed in the first half of this game. By the end of the game, an NCAA record 79 of Sacramento State’s 112 shot attempts were from long range and it only converted 24 percent of its threes. Conversely, Cal played to its strength and focused on scoring inside, attempting just two from beyond the arc in the game.
For the Hornets, one positive consequence of shooting so many three-pointers was that they were able to dominate the offensive glass. Despite Cal’s overall rebounding edge, 56-43, Sacramento State collected 29 offensive rebounds, the result of missed three-point shots bouncing off the rim and landing near the perimeter.
“They took a lot of long threes, that’s what was hard for us,” Gottlieb said. “(Anigwe) and (Penina Davidson) and the big guys, they’re used to boxing someone out who’s right by the basket. So, when shots are coming from 35 feet and balls are flying around, it’s a little bit different.”
While the Bears weren’t spectacular defensively, their potent and highly efficient offense earned them an easy victory.
“I would say overall that we’re growing up a little bit,” Gottlieb said. “I told them again in the locker room we should be the team that improves the most from now until the start of conference play in our conference, because we have the most room for growth, so it’s an exciting thing.”
Kapil Kashyap covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]