Comeback effort from No. 13 UCLA not enough as Cal women’s basketball wins 80-77

Aditi Raghunath/Staff

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At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Asha Thomas grabs a defensive rebound, turns and takes off. She slots a perfect bounce pass into Mi’Cole Cayton, who is streaking down the right side of the court. Cal’s lead over UCLA is back in double digits, and the play is emblematic of the two players who gave the Bears the most life on both ends of the court throughout the course of the game.

Haas Pavilion rumbled with excitement after the first quarter — which was only natural, considering that the Cal women’s basketball team (16-7, 4-7), which few could’ve predicted would be leading the Bruins (17-5, 8-3) by double digits after just the first 10 minutes of the game, was holding a solid 20-6 lead. UCLA went scoreless for nearly six minutes at the start of the game, allowing Cal to build up a huge 16-0 lead. The Bears’ offense, though, shouldn’t be discounted, as they played feisty down low and moved the ball more than they have for most of the season.

The excellent production only continued into the second quarter, during which Cal maintained its lead and even extended it, going up by 15 a little over halfway through. The Bears were dominant offensively on every cylinder in the entire first half: From the perimeter they were hitting shots, and inside they were gaining good position and consistently grabbing rebounds — pulling 25 boards to UCLA’s 16 — providing second- and even third-chance opportunities. Cal ended the half up 37-24, a lead that would be short-lived as the Bruins found their stride.

The scoring performance (which rivals any the Bears have displayed thus far this year) was led by Cayton and Kristine Anigwe, who scored 13 and nine points in the first half, respectively. Surprisingly, only five Cal players put up points in the half — a change from the usual panoply of players who contribute points here and there.

But it wasn’t all good news in the first half — the Bears committed nine turnovers, but they lucked out as the Bruins could only turn it into six points. The 13-point lead that Cal ended the half with was definitely in part due to the Bruins’ lack of offensive cohesion that was sure to improve in the second half. UCLA was unable to get the ball inside and had trouble converting at the perimeter. Expectedly, the Bruins’ two highest scorers in the half were Jordin Canada and Monique Billings, who contributed just eight points each.

UCLA’s press did its job in the beginning of the third quarter, making it harder for Thomas and Cowling to get the ball up effectively and creating the ripple effect of stagnating the Bears’ offense. The Bruins stole the lead from Cal with 4:43 left in the third, up 40-39. And just like that, the tables had turned. A game that had belonged to the Bears was now up for grabs.

For the remainder of the quarter, Cal stepped up to the challenge. Thomas time and time again penetrated the lane to either find a shot or open one up for someone else, and she was the force that led the Bears to regain their lead by the end of the quarter, finishing it 55-48.

Cal’s play in the fourth harkened back to the first half, during which it converted efficiently on offense and fought for rebounds and positioning on defense. With just one minute remaining, the Bears were grasping a five-point lead, but it would prove tough to hold on to. The Bruins’ press forced Cal turnovers and narrowed the lead to just two, but the Bears came back on the other end with an and-one from Anigwe to stretch the lead back to five with just 13.8 seconds remaining. And that cushion would prove to be enough, as Cal emerged victorious, 80-77.

“This was really fun. And it’s fun because our players, since Sunday after the game, have been locked in,” said Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “I thought our whole entire mojo was what Cal basketball is.”

Sophie Goethals is the assistant sports editor. Contact her at [email protected]