A tumultuous roller coaster of a regular season came to an end for the Cal women’s basketball team Sunday, when it completed its late-season slide by losing to No. 7 Oregon State (25-4, 16-2 Pac-12), 54-44, at Haas Pavilion despite a strong effort through three quarters.
Now, the Bears (13-16, 4-14) will head to the Pac-12 Tournament hoping for a miracle to get them into the NCAA Tournament.
“(I’m) extremely proud of our team’s effort today,” said Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “You never know when things are going to click. … I’m not worried about wishing that happened sooner, I’m more excited we saw some things today that we haven’t seen all year, and that’s a really great place for us to be heading into the tournament.”
Oregon State came into the game with the Pac-12’s best scoring defense, so scoring in the halfcourt was going to be a difficult proposition for the Bears. In response to this, Gottlieb visibly prompted the Bears to push the ball upcourt whenever they were on offense early in the game.
Cal failed to score efficiently in the first quarter despite this gameplan, especially when the Beavers’ starting center, Ruth Hamblin, was in the game. Hamblin, who had six blocks and 19 rebounds, continuously swallowed up the Bears’ shots at the rim. The 2015 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year’s rim protection began to deter Cal from even taking shots at the basket in her vicinity, which led to a shot clock violation late in the first period.
With the Bears struggling to score — they put up eight points in the first period on 26.7 percent shooting — their defense had to step up its play. And it did, playing one of the best games it has all season, allowing the Beavers to make only a third of their shots in the first frame, to keep Cal within range at 14-8 going into the second frame.
Cal’s offense stayed flat in the second quarter, as only freshman forward Kristine Anigwe was able to score with any consistency. She scored 11 of her team’s 19 points in the first half despite having to deal with Hamblin on nearly every shot. The rest of the Bears shot 17.4 percent from the field in the half and their difficulties were even more pronounced from beyond the arc, as they didn’t make a three in their four first half attempts.
Oregon State was barely any better, and the teams combined for only 43 points through two quarters. The Beavers led 24-19 going into the break for locker room messages that surely preached improved offensive efficiency for both teams.
The Bears started the third quarter on a roll, making their first four shots and tying the score at 27. A nice defense-offense sequence by Hamblin, however, on which she got a block — her fifth of the game — and followed it with a post score on the other end pushed Oregon State back into the lead. But Cal freshman guard Asha Thomas converted a three to put her team back in front on the next possession.
Thomas and sophomore forward Mikayla Cowling each put up five points in the third quarter for a resurgent Bears offense, which shot 57.1 percent in the frame and scored 18 points after scoring 19 in the whole first half.
The Beavers also found their touch, however, and scored 15 points of their own to keep the lead going into the final frame, a place Cal has struggled all season long. Oregon State, meanwhile, has dominated late in games, outscoring opponents by 120 points there this season before Sunday’s game.
And true to form, the Beavers dominated.
Anigwe, who had 21 points and seven boards, scored the first bucket to tie the game at 39, but after that, the Bears missed 10 consecutive shots along with six straight from the charity stripe. They didn’t score until there were three minutes left in the game. But by then it was far too late, as Oregon State scored 15 points in a row to go up 54-39. A Cal run wasn’t enough, and the Bears suffered a 10-point loss. While falling again was nowhere near ideal, it gave the team its second straight impressive performance, after an 11-point win Friday over Oregon, which is a reason for confidence heading into the Pac-12 Tournament and next year.
“We’ve all kind of grown up a little bit. We know where we want to go, who we want to be, how we want to play every game,” Cowling said. “I think we played well tonight, played hard, played together, played for each other.”