Two down. Two to go.
The Cal women’s basketball team is something else right now. The Bears may have gone only 4-14 in Pac-12 play, but that doesn’t matter anymore.
What matters is that Cal is scoring and defending better than it has all year, and it needs only two more wins to win the Pac-12 Championship. The Bears (15-16) beat No. 10 Arizona State (25-6, 16-2), 75-64, despite turning the ball over 26 times, giving Cal its second win in as many days.
From the start, the Bears seemed to think they had an advantage inside, especially with the Sun Devils’ inability to guard Cal freshman forward Kristine Anigwe. The Bears consistently looked to her to open the game, lobbing entry passes over Arizona State’s Charnea Johnson-Chapman to find Anigwe open looks. After Anigwe scored Cal’s first four points, the Sun Devils started doubling her before she even got the ball. But instead of forcing the ball to Anigwe the first time Arizona State took this approach, junior forward Courtney Range found an open Gabby Green for a three. She hit it to put the Bears up, 7-4.
Plays like this were common for Cal in the first quarter, when the Bears racked up six assists on seven field goals, as they made an astounding 70 percent of their shots to go up 17-13, despite six first period turnovers.
The Sun Devils, however, picked things up in the second quarter. An Arizona State defense that forced Cal into 26 giveaways in the teams’ first meeting as well slowed the Bears’ offense to a halt early in the second frame. By the 7:27 mark of the quarter, the Sun Devils had already forced six more turnovers and Cal had failed to even get up a shot. But the Bears’ defense — which held Arizona State to only 34 percent from the field in the first half — kept them in the game long enough to rediscover their form on offense.
Despite coughing the ball up seven times in the second period, Cal managed to outscore the Sun Devils by one, on the strength of more hot shooting — the Bears made six of nine shots. Cal carried a 32-27 lead into the half and looked to be on its way to a second consecutive miracle.
The Bears built their lead by controlling the paint, outscoring an undersized Sun Devils squad there by 12 points in the first half. But in the third quarter, Cal’s offense found its home beyond the arc. Freshman guard Asha Thomas, who didn’t take a shot in the first half, made three treys in the first four minutes, putting her team up 10. Arizona State got within two behind senior Elisha Davis’ personal 6-0 run midway through the frame, but the Bears managed to rediscover their ownership of the paint.
Their entry passes continued to find Anigwe in perfect positions to score, and she had 18 points heading into the final quarter. Sophomore forward Penina Davidson, who has played some of the best games of her career in recent weeks, finished with 17 points in the game and dominated inside. The Bears carried a shocking 54-44 lead into the fourth period and were on the brink of a huge upset over the Pac-12’s regular season co-champion.
In the fourth quarter, Thomas kept up her explosive play to end the game with 16 points, and Range found her for a transition layup to put Cal up by a game-high 17 points with 8:09 remaining. The Sun Devils launched a comeback effort, again behind Davis, but never got closer than nine points, as the Bears continued to hit their shots at a blistering rate. Cal made 69.6 percent of its field goals in the game, led by Anigwe, Thomas and Davidson who combined to miss only three times. Anigwe was especially impressive scoring 24 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.
With their win, the Bears will play again Saturday and hope they can stave off fatigue again versus the winner of third-seeded UCLA’s game with the No. 11 seed, Arizona.