Cal women’s basketball ekes out season-opening win against St. Mary’s

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Four minutes into the first quarter, Cal’s Kristine Anigwe catches the ball down low, just outside of the box. Three St. Mary’s defenders crowd her, but she spins to the inside and lays the ball up with her right hand. The basket, so elegantly carried out by the Bears’ best player, provides her only points in the entire first half.

Anigwe’s struggles down low were a persistent theme throughout the first two quarters, in part because of a Gaels’ defense that crowded the box and rarely let the ball come down low without an immediate double team. Though Cal finally ended up on top with a score of 74-67, throughout the first quarter, the Bears faced immense difficulty scoring — putting up only nine points — which could also be attributed to slow ball movement and a lack of driving to the rim.

On the other end of the court, the Gaels were consistently able to stretch Cal’s defense by playing their guards high and across the three-point line. The space that opened up thanks to this offensive positioning then provided them with ample opportunities to exploit the Bears’ defense through the middle. St. Mary’s ability to grab offensive rebounds also led to numerous second-chance baskets — and a seven-point lead by the end of the first quarter.

Things would change in the second quarter, though, thanks to the hot hand of Cal sophomore Asha Thomas. Thomas put up four three pointers in the second quarter alone and led her team with 16 points in the half, allowing the Bears to amass a lead of eight points by halftime.

Cal, though, remained sloppy offensively with three consecutive turnovers at the end of the second quarter, which the Gaels were not able to take full advantage of. What St. Mary’s did take advantage of, however, was a string of superior rebounding that got them 21 rebounds in the first half compared to the Bears’ 14. The half ended with Cal leading 35-27.

Thomas’ slew of three pointers could only keep the Bears ahead for so long, though. Midway through the third quarter, Cal found itself up by only one point, in part because of a pickup in shooting from the Gaels, particularly from junior guard Carly Turner, who hit two threes in the third quarter.

St. Mary’s eight-point scoring run was able to bring it within a point of Cal, but the Bears were able to finish the third quarter with an eight-point lead. The scoring that came at the end of the third quarter was in part due to quicker offensive ball movement and fast breaks for the Bears.

The final quarter of the game continued on track for the Bears as they were able, thanks to improved ball movement, to extend their lead to 14 points with a little less than three minutes left in the game — the biggest of the game. St. Mary’s also racked up fouls in the fourth quarter, putting Cal in the bonus with 7:16 to go.

Anigwe also appeared to at last find her stride in the final 10 minutes of the game, receiving and converting countless passes in the key. She was able to score nine points in the course of the second half — contributing much-needed numbers to the Bears’ final offensive push. Her big second half, along with steady scoring from Thomas and senior Courtney Range, helped the Bears hold onto their lead.

While the first half was certainly bumpy for the Bears on both ends of the court, Cal ended the game with a 74-67 win, besting the Gaels in the two teams’ 24th meeting. The Bears were led by Thomas, Anigwe and Range with 19, 11 and 14 points, respectively. Cal’s rebounding effort was led by Anigwe, Range and Mikayla Cowling who together accounted for 21 of the team’s 30 rebounds. Certainly, though, the best performance of the game must be acknowledged as Thomas’ five three-pointers, without which the Bears would have most definitely floundered offensively.

Sophie Goethals covers women’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected]