Sensing that she had enough open space, 6-foot-5-inch Nebraska center Allie Havers rose up for a layup attempt, drifting right a few feet away from the basket. Trailing just behind, 6-foot-2-inch Mikayla Cowling, a starting forward for Cal, elevated and sent Havers’ shot flying backward into the hands of Gabby Green for a rebound.
On the ensuing offensive possession, the Bears dumped the ball into the hands of freshman forward Kristine Anigwe, who finished the sequence with a three-point play off a made bucket in the low post. With Anigwe’s offensive prowess and Cowling’s relentless defense, the Bears went on a 13-0 run in the second quarter to turn a six-point deficit into a seven-point lead.
On Saturday, No. 22 Cal women’s basketball (7-2) earned a hard-fought victory in overtime, 87-80, against Nebraska (7-2) at the Haas Pavilion, despite falling behind early. The Bears’ deficit in the first quarter was a product of lethargic defense to open the game and a hot shooting start from Nebraska. The Cornhuskers patiently passed to open players around the perimeter, waiting for their ball movement to force a defensive lapse from the Bears to free up one of their players. Nebraska was able to convert on these openings early on, with three treys from Natalie Romeo as well as a three from Rachel Theriot in the first quarter.
A series of runs, however, allowed Cal to surge ahead before the end of the first half. Down 20-7, Anigwe converted a pair of free throws to begin what would be a 11-0 run by the Bears, cutting the lead to two points. After a couple of free throws made by Theriot put the Cornhuskers up six, Cal exploded for a 13-0 run, with Anigwe dominating the defense using her adept post play. The Bears were then able to close out the half leading, 44-38.
“I thought the veterans — when I say veterans I mean sophomores and juniors — stepped up and created a mentality that we weren’t going to lose the game,” said Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “And that allows people like Kristine and (Asha Thomas) just to make plays.”
The third quarter was tightly contested throughout, with neither team able to build a lead of more than four points until the two-minute mark. But, with about two minutes left in the period, Anigwe — Cal’s leading scorer — was pulled out after a bout of cramps. With just a few minutes of rest, she returned to the floor to start the fourth quarter for the Bears, who led 63-57. But Anigwe missed back-to-back field goal attempts, allowing the Cornhuskers to tie the game. After trading baskets on the following possessions, Cal failed to recover in transition and gave up an easy look inside that allowed Nebraska to tie the game, 70-70.
Tied at 74 with less than 30 seconds left, a botched inbound pass by Nebraska allowed Cal to recover possession of the ball. After dribbling down the clock, Thomas attempted a long jumper and missed. Anigwe was quick to get to the offensive rebound, but failed to convert on a tip. With the Huskers unable to get up a shot on their final possession, the game extended into overtime.
In overtime, the Bears were able to pull away with timely baskets from Anigwe, Thomas and Cowling. Down by three points, Theriot missed a three-point attempt on an isolation play, after using a crossover to generate some space between her and the defender. The Huskies would go scoreless for the remainder of the period, giving Cal an 87-80 victory.
“We just know (Anigwe) is someone we can put into big situations and she can make plays,” Gottlieb said. “I would love to have won it long before overtime, but any time with this group you have situations you can look back on, it’s really helpful.”
Kapil Kashyap covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]