The last meeting between the Cal women’s basketball team and UCLA was a thriller — possibly a contender for game of the year — that went into double overtime before the Bears won, 108-104, in Haas Pavilion. With a pedigree like that coming into Friday’s game, it seemed safe to assume Cal and the Bruins would produce another classic.
In Los Angeles, however, the game was anything but a nailbiter, as No. 20 UCLA (13-5, 5-2 Pac-12) dominated Cal (10-8, 1-6), 75-56, with an impressive effort on both ends of the court.
UCLA usually gets most of its scoring from its starting backcourt of Nirra Fields and Jordin Canada, and Fields did get off to a hot start with six points in the first quarter. But the Bruins put forth a more well-rounded effort early on, and it paid off, as they had six players score to help build an early 19-14 lead at the end of the first period. UCLA’s depth was a crucial piece of the puzzle Friday, and it ended the game with points from 10 different players. That’s especially important against a team like Cal, which only has eight rotation players and was without one of its minutes leaders, Gabby Green, who didn’t make the trip to LA.
The Bruins, who played nine players in the first quarter alone, put the extra energy afforded to them by the more equitable distribution of minutes to good use and attacked the offensive glass. UCLA’s consistent ability to corral its own misses even forced the Bears into a timeout early in the second quarter after the Bruins picked up their 10th offensive rebound and put it back in for a score to go up six.
Cal’s disadvantage on the boards and in terms of available players was only exacerbated by some early foul trouble for star freshman forward Kristine Anigwe. She picked up her second foul early and Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb was forced to pull out Anigwe for longer than she typically would. Although she came back in for a three-minute stretch near the end of the second quarter, Anigwe only played 11 minutes in the first half — she averaged 29.7 per game coming into this matchup.
Her absence was felt on the offensive end, where the Bears mostly passed the ball around the perimeter, hoping something would spring open. Even when an open shot presented itself, Cal was only able to convert at a 33.3 percent clip from beyond the arc. As the Bears struggled to hit their perimeter shots, they surely would have enjoyed the opportunity to throw the ball to a star in the post and let her work her magic. Without Anigwe, who only took four shots before the halftime buzzer, Cal had no such outlet.
The Bruins came out of halftime holding an 11-point lead, an advantage of 11 on the boards and having turned the ball over seven fewer times than the Bears. Things didn’t look like they could get much better for UCLA.
That is, until they did. The Bruins started the second half on a 14-5 run to go up, 49-29, and Cal fell apart as its hopes of winning withered away. The Bears forced up bad shots and continued throwing the ball away, a bad recipe for any potential comeback. By the end of the game, Cal had turned the ball over a whopping 20 times and UCLA took advantage, converting the giveaways into 23 points the other away and eliminating any chance of a comeback materializing.
The Bears’ biggest downfall in the game, other than the turnovers, was their inability to solve the Bruins’ zone defense. Far too often, Cal settled for chucking up long-range shots instead of attacking the zone and finding holes in it. The Bears took 18 threes and only made five of them. Cal’s offense was further hampered by the absence of Green, who is generally the team’s primary facilitator and gives the Bears options for ball-handling when freshman guard Asha Thomas, who had eight points and eight assists, is taking a breather. With all these problems on the offensive end, Anigwe remained a bright spot for Cal’s offense and she ended the game with 16 points and nine rebounds.
The Bears need more well-rounded efforts if they hope to get their groove back. Without more from players who aren’t Anigwe, Cal will not be able to contend against the Pac-12’s best teams.