It might only be one game, but Sunday’s performance showcased the Cal women’s basketball team’s potential to be one of the best in the Pac-12 this season. The Bears looked energized and ready to go in their first game of the season, blowing by Westmont by a score of 87-48.
Granted, Cal’s opponent may have been a small Christian liberal arts college, but this is what good teams are supposed to do against teams that are outsized and outmatched.
“It was a great first game for us,” said Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “I just really love the demeanor of this team. They’re so with us, the veterans are a year older, they’re doing a great job mentoring the freshman. I love our depth. Overall, I was very pleased with our effort.”
The Bears got off to a fast start in the first quarter, jumping out to an early 17-5 lead, one that they would never relinquish. The Bears used their superior size and athleticism to force turnovers and get out in transition all game long, leading to easy layups. Asha Thomas was more than happy to be on the receiving end of a lot of those outlet passes, finishing the game with 17 points. Kristine Anigwe, the reigning National Freshman of the Year, led all scorers with 20 points on 10 for 12 shooting.
The closest Westmont came to challenging Cal was in the second quarter, where the Warriors took advantage of sloppy turnovers by the Bears to cut the score down to 24-19 with 6 minutes and 10 seconds left in the first half. This forced Gottlieb to call a timeout to stop the bleeding.
“Box out, take care of the ball, be better — usually I say it pretty nicely. I don’t know how nicely I said it in that timeout,” Gottlieb said while laughing. “But this reminds me of some of my teams in the past where I had really good eye contact in the huddle, I can say whatever and they’re going to respond.”
The timeout seemed to do the trick, as the Bears closed the half out on a 12-5 run.
Freshmen Jaelyn Brown, Celeste “CJ” West and Mi’Cole Cayton all got plenty of playing time in their first game as Bears. Brown was especially impressive, showcasing her speed and agility en route to 12 points and five assists in 20 minutes off the bench.
“I just really love playing,” Brown said. “I came back from an injury, so I’m just back on the court, ready to play with my team and do what I can to help. Trying to get back my confidence has been my key focus. I’m taking it day by day and just trying to enjoy the moment.”
The freshmen should all play integral roles for the Bears this season. West, a 6-foot-4-inch center, was a big part of the reason why Westmont didn’t score any points in the paint all game long. Cayton contributed with four assists off the bench, but also a team-high of four turnovers. The freshmen brought an energy to the game that the rest of the team fed off of.
“I thought we brought something that we lacked last year, which is sort of like a ‘nastiness’ on defense,” Gottlieb said. “Just a real aggression, we put back in our press, the 2-2-1, full court press. Also the luxury to have Mi’Cole come off the bench and play the 1 or 2. She’s really tough, she’s just a great competitor, and I think that presence alone helps us.”
With strong performances on both ends of the floor tonight, the Cal women’s basketball team looks much improved from the previous season. The Bears will look to build on their 1-0 start to the season against Saint Mary’s on Friday.
Jeffrey Liu covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]