On Sunday, Cal women’s basketball got the balanced scoring effort it’s been looking for since the start of Pac-12 play, including a team-high 22 points and six assists from freshman guard Asha Thomas.
But it wasn’t enough.
Despite a hot three-point shooting night at home with 12 made triples, the shorthanded Bears (11-10, 2-8 Pac-12) were ill-equipped to chase after Kelsey Plum, the nation’s leading scorer, and the Washington Huskies (16-5, 7-3). Cal fell just short in the closely contested battle, 75-65.
The Bears struggled to score to start off the game, unable to convert any looks in the first three minutes of the game. With Washington holding a 7-0 lead, the shots began to fall for Cal. The Bears were able to hit a three-pointer on each of their next three possessions. Cal finished the quarter with a highlight-worthy play from junior forward Courtney Range, who hit a three-pointer in the left corner as the buzzer expired to bring the score to 24-21, Washington.
The Bears’ first substitution came in the second quarter, when freshman guard MaAne Mosley entered the game. This lineup — with Mosley in place of sophomore forward Penina Davidson — was stagnant offensively as Mosley hovered around the perimeter but appeared hesitant to shoot even when uncontested. The Huskies were able to exploit this and increased their defensive attention on the other players on the floor as a result.
While the Bears appeared to struggle to find open looks on offense — and their first half numbers are evidence of their inefficiency (12-32 on field goals) — they managed to stay afloat in the game. They finished the half down by just four points, 38-34, because of a strong three-point shooting performance as a team. In the first half, Thomas and sophomore forward Mikayla Cowling made two triples apiece, and Range chipped in three more. Cal was also able to hold the Huskies to 44 percent shooting for the game, despite its inability to contain Plum, who scored 28 points on 8-18 shooting.
Freshman forward Kristine Anigwe, the Bears’ leading scorer, was held to just seven points in the first half as a result of Washington’s defense. The Huskies sent a double-team at Anigwe any time the 6-foot-4-inch forward received the ball and kept a second defender, the Huskies’ all-time leading shot-blocker 6-foot-2-inch Talia Walton, hovering around Anigwe to defend any possible entry pass when she didn’t have the ball. This tactic meant that Cal would frequently have an open three-point shooter and in the first half, this was often Cowling. Though Thomas, the team’s primary ball-handler, was initially slow to notice this, she was ultimately able to get Cowling, as well as herself, uncontested looks.
“We haven’t had to prepare specifically for a kid as much as we have had to for (Anigwe), being a freshman especially,” said Washington head coach Mike Neighbors. “We prepared for her more than any freshman we have, that I can remember.”
In the second half, Washington blew open its lead and built some separation between itself and Cal. The Huskies outscored the Bears 20-13 in the third period, giving them a 58-47 lead. Cal kept the game close in the fourth quarter and narrowed its deficit to as few as five points, but an off-the-dribble three-pointer on an isolation play from Plum to put Washington up 73-60 with less than two minutes remaining sealed the Bears’ fate.
With the loss, the Bears have little hope of earning an NCAA tournament bid this season, but can use these games as opportunities for their players to gain experience and grow. A career night from Thomas — who made six three-pointers, the strong two-way play of Cowling and Anigwe’s emergence as a dominant offensive player are all positive signs for the team’s future.
Kapil Kashyap covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]