It is no secret: The Cal women’s basketball team is struggling. The team had started the season on a very solid note, winning its first 13 games. But the misfortunes associated with that number came to bite the Bears as they lost four of their last five games — all against Pac-12 opponents, no less. One of those encounters was double-OT loss to ASU, and a win at home would have allowed Cal to take steps to turning their season around. That was not to be, however, as the Bears fell to the Sun Devils, 54-45.
“Arizona State is one of the toughest teams we’ll face all year,” said Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “We were really tough and good for about 36 minutes, and it wasn’t good enough.”
It was a slow offensive start for both teams as the score stood at 6-2 in favor of Cal after the first six minutes of the quarter. The match picked up pace in the latter part of the quarter, and by the end of it, the Bears led by one, 10-9, thanks to a buzzer beater by forward Courtney Range.
Cal seemed to be more intent on attacking the basket from the inside in the first half, as its efforts from deep bore no fruit. Range’s strong mid-range game, coupled with Thomas’ breathtaking drives to the basket, allowed the Bears to dictate proceedings. Thomas was assisted by the superb screen-setting of forward Penina Davidson.
ASU, on the other hand, kept the pressure on Cal through guard Robbi Ryan, who scored 10 in the first half. Ryan was the beneficiary of some impressive team play as the Sun Devils’ slick passing caused problems for Cal. With four minutes to go in the second quarter, ASU led the Bears by three, but this was offset by guard Asha Thomas’ second trey of the game. The impressive shooting seemed to have injected Cal with great confidence as it then amped up the pressure on its opponent. With two minutes to go, Cal’s strong hustle play was on full display as Range’s steal paved the way for guard Mikayla Cowling’s first basket of the match. The first half ended in the Bears’ favor, 24-20.
The rebounding battle between the two teams in the half was close as well, with ASU having a board more. The Bears had more defensive rebounds but were thoroughly outclassed on offensive boards, where the Sun Devils had outrebounded them by five. This was also because of the fact that ASU relied on a more interior game than the home side. The Sun Devils had attempted four three pointers in the half, as compared to Cal’s nine.
In the third quarter however, the Sun Devils were the ones who started out strong. They played a fast-paced game that allowed them to cut the lead and keep the Bears on their toes. Cal was also not helped by its poor ball handling and passing, which resulted in 17 turnovers throughout the game.The Bears’ inefficient play resulted in them squandering the lead and allowing ASU to take control of the match in the third quarter.
While forward Kristine Anigwe was quiet throughout the match, owing to some sturdy defense that did not allow her to move on the low post, she was still able to come up with baskets on key occasions. Cal’s offensive firepower came through Thomas, who showed massive improvement on her three-point shooting compared to the previous game against ASU.
The Bears’ on- the- ball defense was brilliant, but their interior defense was subpar. It did not allow the team to consolidate on its lead and was the primary reason for their loss. The Sun Devils notched 19 offensive rebounds — 13 more than Cal — and this showed on the scoreline as they scored 26 points in the paint. ASU was able to hold on to the lead it created in the final quarter and go back to Tempe, Arizona, with a hard fought win.
“I thought our on the ball defense was very good,” Gottlieb said. “It was on those couple of three-point plays off offensive rebounds, that Arizona State killed us. But that is what they do. They wear you out and execute some key plays, which turn the game.”
This loss happens to be Cal’s fifth out of the previous six matches and signifies a troubling phenomenon for the Bears. They have been unable to deal properly with conference teams, and this will have dire consequences for the team’s postseason ambitions. The team needs to get back on track quickly if it hopes to improve its record in the Pac-12 from last season.
Devang Prasad covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]