In a battle between two of the Pac-12’s last-place teams, the No. 21 Cal women’s basketball team showed why it won’t rest near the bottom of the conference’s standings for long.
The Bears (10-4, 1-2 Pac-12) dominated Colorado (5-9, 0-3) at Haas Pavilion on Friday, winning 64-35 and forcing the Buffs into 25 turnovers.
Colorado seemed to be outmatched, especially with leading scorer and rebounder Jamee Swan out with an injury, and it showed, with the Buffs sometimes struggling to get to the rim in halfcourt sets. They have been successful at converting their transition opportunities, however, so it was crucial that Cal, the Pac-12’s most turnover-prone team, avoid the giveaways that would create fastbreak opportunities. The Bears caught the turnover bug early, however, and gave it away on three of their first four possessions and seven times in total during the first period. Colorado turned these into only four points, but it was enough to keep them in the game, 14-14, when the first quarter buzzer sounded.
The turnovers prevented an otherwise thriving Cal offense from building a big lead, with the Bears shooting a solid 50 percent from the field. Cal scored 12 of its first 14 points in the paint and was focused on getting to the bucket against a Buffs’ squad that was also missing its rim protector and leader in blocks in Swan. This strategy paid off for the Bears, who ended the game with a whopping 46 points in the paint.
For Cal, going to the paint usually means one thing: feeding freshman forward Kristine Anigwe. The Bears knew it, the fans knew it and Colorado knew it. The Buffs consistently pressured Anigwe, whether she had the ball or didn’t, double teaming her, and playing tough, physical defense against the freshman star. Anigwe struggled to score in traditional post-ups as Colorado was pushing her away from the basket. She found another way to excel, capitalizing on second-chance opportunities from the six offensive boards she was able to corral in the game. She also used the double teams to find cutting Bears for wide-open layups and ended the first half with a pair of assists to go along with her 12 points.
Even with Anigwe shouldering the load again, the Bears’ offense just couldn’t find the basket in the second quarter. The Buffs stood strong on defense, as Cal scored only one point in the first five minutes of the quarter and ended the period with a measly nine points. Colorado’s offense, however, was even more ineffective.
Saying the Buffs sputtered in the second quarter would be putting it mildly. Colorado turned it over nine times, which only allowed it to get off five field goal attempts, none of which the Buffs were able to convert. By the end of first half, Colorado still had only 14 points and it hadn’t scored since the three-minute-27-second mark of the first quarter, but shockingly, the Buffs still found themselves well within striking distance.
Cal, perhaps aware that it was unlikely Colorado could play more poorly in the second half, started playing focused, stellar offense to go along with with its sturdy defense. Anigwe continued to showcase her wide array of talents and ended the game with 20 points, 13 rebounds and four assists — all at least tied for the team lead. This puts her right back in the running for a record-tying seventh Pac-12 Freshman of the Week Award. To go along with Anigwe’s impressive play, the Bears’ first-quarter turnover problems were nowhere to be found, and they only coughed it up a respectable eight times in the second half. This limited the Buffs’ ability to get out in transition and score the easy buckets they needed to score without Swan.
Instead, the Bears forced the Buffs into bad shots, and Colorado didn’t score until there were four minutes and 40 seconds left in the third quarter on a bucket by forward Makenzie Ellis. By then, their scoring drought had lasted 18 minutes and 47 seconds, and not even an El Nino could bring Colorado back into the game, as it already trailed, 31-16. The Buffs did manage to manufacture some offense in the remainder of the third quarter, but they no longer had any luck slowing down Cal, which took a 41-23 lead into the final frame.
The Bears would go on to stretch that lead and win by 29, making their first Pac-12 victory of the season an emphatic one.