No. 21 Cal women’s basketball falls to 0-2 in Pac-12 with 57-52 loss against Arizona

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With just 16 seconds left in the game, Cal women’s basketball trails by three.

The Bears need to be saved.

Freshman guard Asha Thomas dribbles it upcourt and has just enough space for a shot at being the hero. Thomas rises up and fires a shot from the wing. It looks good coming out of her hands, but the shot just misses and the ball caroms off the rim into an Arizona defender’s hands.

And with this miss, the No. 21 Bears (9-4, 0-2 Pac-12) are left looking for some sort of spark to turn their season around after losing, 57-52, to Arizona (10-4, 1-1) on Monday. Freshman forward Kristine Anigwe scored 19 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in Cal’s second consecutive loss, after the Bears fell at Arizona State on Saturday.

Anigwe, who so often takes Cal’s first shot of the game, got it again with an easy layup on a catch right under the basket. The Bears didn’t look happy with how little they had used Anigwe in the first half against the Sun Devils, going down by 16 after she scored only six points, so they fed her the ball on almost every early possession. Anigwe, who was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Week for the sixth time Monday, scored Cal’s first six points and eight of the team’s 11 in the first quarter.

In the second quarter, the Bears decided to keep going with what had been working — not just this game but all season long — in getting the ball to Anigwe in the post. As has been the case throughout the year, the defense facing Anigwe didn’t really matter. With eight minutes and 11 seconds left in the second quarter, Anigwe got the ball in the post, faced up the defense and drew a foul that sent her to the line. This sequence seems simple enough, until one realizes she did this while being covered by four Wildcat defenders.

Despite the freshman star’s brilliant start, Arizona still managed to hold a one-point lead heading into the second quarter and only trailed by five at the end of the half. The Wildcats did this while shooting only 21.2 percent from the field heading into the break. This mediocre number would put most teams at risk of a blowout, but a tremendous effort on the offensive boards, where Arizona corralled 11 of its own misses, kept the undersized Wildcats in the game.

Cal’s inability to capitalize on Arizona’s poor shooting was especially harmful because the Bears impressively avoided the turnovers that have plagued them all season, with only seven in the half. They entered the game with the most turnovers in the Pac-12, and after 26 giveaways against Arizona State sunk Cal’s chances of victory, they were focused on taking care of the ball. The Wildcats, however, seemed intent on taking advantage of this hole in the Bears’ game, and they implemented a trap-heavy defensive scheme. Cal successfully maneuvered the traps and held onto the ball, and by doing so, found Arizona poorly positioned to prevent easy shots. This helped Cal shoot 50 percent from the field in the first half and get up by five, 27-22.

The second half opened with the Pac-12 foes trading threes, and it looked as though the game was turning into a high-scoring affair. But the remainder of the third quarter was a bricklaying affair from the Bears, who scored only 12 points on 5-14 shooting in the period. More importantly, their turnover woes began to creep back as Cal gave it away four times.

As Arizona’s offense began to find the bottom of the net, shooting 7-16, it looked as if the Bears might leave the state winless, with only a one-point lead entering the fourth quarter. More importantly, a loss here would largely be for the same reasons as the one against Arizona State, with Cal’s offense going away from Anigwe despite the Wildcats’ inability to stop her, giving her only four shots in the third quarter.

The Bears’ starters also seemed tired and this led to a lack of movement and a stagnant offense from Cal, who currently has only eight players in their rotation. The overtaxed starters resorted to firing threes rather than working to get into the paint, where the Bears generally thrive. They took a whopping 26 three-pointers in the match. This isn’t their game, however, and it showed as Cal only converted six from beyond the arc.

Despite the weak showing and a steadily improving Arizona offense that pushed the Wildcats ahead, Anigwe and junior forward Courtney Range — who had 18 points — did just enough to keep the Bears within a basket with less than a minute left in the game. Anigwe hit a huge layup with 18 seconds left to make the score, 53-52, and force the Wildcats to hit their free throws to seal the game. Arizona easily got the ball into forward LaBrittney Jones’ hands and she hit both from the charity stripe, leaving Cal with 16 seconds and a chance to tie the game. Thomas missed and Arizona got the rebound, its 47th of the game, ending the game and keeping Cal winless so far in the Pac-12 season.

Hooman Yazdanian covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @hoomanyazdanian