The Bears held their collective breath.
Leading scorer and star freshman Kristine Anigwe had just fallen to the floor and stayed there, without moving for a minute. Her team helped her to her feet. Anigwe limped to the bench, and the chances of losing the seven-time Pac-12 Freshman of the Week loomed large.
But just a few minutes later, she checked back into the game.
Anigwe’s return to the matchup was the Bears’ (12-15, 3-13 Pac-12) only positive takeaway, however, as they fell, 78-57, on the road to the Pac-12’s last-place team, Colorado (7-20, 2-14). The loss was Cal’s second in a row and gave the Buffaloes their first win in the last six games.
From the beginning of Sunday’s matchup, it was evident this game would be a battle of the teams’ star bigs. On the first possession, Anigwe got the ball, drove past senior forward Jamee Swan and drew a foul. The freshman made both free throws but fouled Swan on Colorado’s subsequent possession. Swan hit both from the charity stripe and the bigs traded buckets for the next few minutes. And when Anigwe went to the bench midway through the first period for a quick rest, coach Linda Lappe subbed Swan out.
But when Anigwe came back in just a minute or two later, she really took over. She scored 18 points in the first period alone and went an impressive 8-10 from the line. Behind her dominant effort, the Bears took a 24-22 lead into the second quarter.
After Anigwe went down early in the second frame, however, Cal stopped going to her as often in the post — she had two shot attempts and no free throws in the second quarter. As a result, the Bears’ offense stagnated. They scored only seven points but coughed it up 10 times, allowing the Buffaloes to build an 11-point lead. Freshman guard Kennedy Leonard led Colorado’s efforts in the first half, with 19 points and four threes.
The Buffaloes exploited Cal’s defensive effort, zipping the ball around and finding holes in the Bears’ zone, helping Colorado go 17-31 from the field in the first half. Although their hot shooting dropped off a bit in the third quarter — they went 7-16 — the Buffaloes continued to build their lead. They outscored Cal by eight in the quarter going up, 59-40, heading into the final frame. At that point, the Bears had already turned it over 20 times leading to 20 Colorado points.
This only made things worse for the Cal defense, as its offensive effort gave the Buffaloes easy transition bucket opportunities. Leonard and Swan continued to dominate for Colorado as well, putting up 23 and 18 points, respectively. They both managed to put up double-doubles, with Leonard chipping in 13 assists, two more than the Bears had as a team, and Swan corralling 12 boards. Junior Haley Smith also took advantage of the Cal defense, notching 24 points without a single trip to the line.
Meanwhile, Anigwe struggled to find her groove from the first quarter but ended the game with a still impressive 30 points and 11 rebounds. The Bears failed to get meaningful contributions from anyone else, however, as sophomore forward Mikayla Cowling was the only player to score more than 10 points. Junior forward Courtney Range especially struggled — her shot was off but she kept trying to find her touch, going 2-13 from the field and 3-6 from the free throw line for eight points.
With the whole team shooting mediocre percentages — the Bears made only 18 of their 54 shots, and a disturbing nine for 36 when excluding Anigwe — Cal failed to stage any sort of a meaningful comeback. It was outscored again in the fourth quarter and lost by 21 in a game the Buffaloes led for more than 32 minutes.
For the Bears, getting blown out by the Pac-12’s worst team — an opponent they beat by 29 earlier this year — is just the latest low point in a season that’s increasingly full of them. Cal now finds itself only a game ahead of 12th in the conference.