Cal women’s basketball tops Santa Clara, 73-58, at home

Lianne Frick/File

Cal guard Mikayla Cowling gets the ball, looks at the basket and then looks at the player guarding her. She dribbles, steps to her right and takes a heavily contested shot. Two points to Cal.

It was a combination of tough baskets like that, as well as some breathtaking drives to the basket, five assists and three steals that led Cowling to take center stage in Cal women’s basketball’s 73-58 win over Santa Clara.

“I don’t even need to look at the stats to tell how well she played,” said head coach Lindsay Gottlieb, of Cowling’s performance. “We had a hard time taking her off the floor because she is such a high energy player. She can play point, she can play post. She was the backbone of our team today.”

Cal got off to a slow start in the first quarter, with Santa Clara holding the team without a basket for the first four minutes. The Bears fed the ball to the duo of Courtney Range and Kristine Anigwe, who were double teamed extensively by the Broncos. Santa Clara, on the other hand, was off to a solid start on the back of Taylor Berry and led the Bears by 10 points.

Then, in a span of two minutes, Cal exploded with a strong offensive run to bridge the gap. Sophomore guard Asha Thomas showcased her shooting skills as she notched two baskets from three-point territory to give the Bears the lead going into the second quarter.

As the game progressed, Cal’s ball movement became better and allowed the team to get better looks on offense. Mi’Cole Cayton delivered an exquisite no-look pass to Penina Davidson that bewildered the Broncos’ defense and allowed Davidson to score her first points of the game with an easy basket.

Santa Clara, however, responded with a strong performance on both ends of the court as it went on an 11-0 run to retake the lead in the game. The Broncos capitalized on the weak perimeter defending by Cal and scored three treys in the second quarter to head into halftime with a slender lead.

Anigwe had a better start than she did against Saint Mary’s. While she only managed to score two points in the first half against the Gaels, she recorded seven Monday, shooting three for nine. While Cal defended well in the half, its overall defensive effort could have been better. The Bears allowed 10 points off turnovers, as well as seven second-chance points, which contributed to Santa Clara having the upper hand.

Anigwe’s second half started with a basket, but she was subbed after amassing four personal fouls. This allowed Cowling to take on a greater role offensively as she scored 12 points in the half and shot 50 percent from the field. Thomas, whose scoring had dried up in the second quarter, became more of a playmaker as she provided three assists in the third quarter. Her highlight play was when she drove to the basket and then sent in a no-look pass to Jaelyn Brown who finished the impressive move. Cal’s extensive man coverage also allowed it to hold the Broncos to 13 points in the third quarter and go into the fourth quarter with a 56-48 scoreline.

The fourth quarter saw Cal hold on to the lead with Davidson giving a solid performance on both ends of the court. She ended the game with 12 points, shooting 60 percent from the field, as well as six boards. Davidson and Anigwe’s strong interior game was instrumental in Cal having an overwhelming advantage in the paint. The Bears scored 40 points in the paint, as compared to the Broncos’ 22, which played a huge part in helping them walk away with the win.

“I wasn’t pleased with the starting five minutes of the game, but I was pleased with how we responded,” Gottlieb said. “I was pleased with our ability to turn things around, the ability to understand how they were playing us. It was more about us really.”

Devang Prasad covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @DevangPrasad.