The score is 47-43 in favor of Utah in the third quarter. Cal advances with the ball and forward Penina Davidson is with her back to the basket. Backing down on her marker, Davidson spots guard Jaelyn Brown near the perimeter. She throws it to Brown, who jumps up to take the catch. She takes a step, and another one and scores with an impressive jump shot in spite of the path to the basket being littered with opposing players. 47-45.
The fans in Haas Pavilion jump up with excitement, hoping that Brown’s basket would mark the turning of the tide.
It did not.
Cal, coming off an impressive home sweep over USC and No. 15 UCLA, suffered a 73-64 loss at the hands of Utah – it’s second loss of the season to the Utes, and eighth overall.
Cal’s unimpressive ball handling was evident from the get go, as it committed four turnovers in the first five minutes of the match. Moreover, the team was unable to deal with the lightning quick offensive style of the Utes in the opening quarter with Utah capitalizing on lapses in man-marking. The Utes would spray quick passes to find open looks and score. The Bears still were able to produce offensively, with a lot of emphasis on interior play. Cal collected five offensive rebounds in the quarter, and scored nine second chance points. Guard Mikayla Cowling thrived through the interior play, as it allowed her space outside the key, which led to five easy points. The quarter ended 18-13 in favor of the home side.
The Bears’ defense took a beating in the second quarter, as Utah scored seven unanswered points over a course of two minutes to take a lead that they would lose a minute later. Lead changes became the theme of the quarter, as Utah powered back with two back to back threes. Ute Taneaya Boclair’s shot from beyond the arc and a layup gave the visitors an eight point cushion heading into the second half.
A major factor that led to Cal relinquishing the lead was a drop in scoring efficiency. Something that haunted the home side throughout the match. The Bears shot 40 percent in the first quarter, which dropped to 30 percent in the second quarter. The Utes on the other hand, made massive improvements as they went from shooting 41.7 percent in the first, to a very healthy 60 percent in the second.
“They mixed up their defense well,” said head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “They played sort of a matchups style that we’re not comfortable with. We did not get a lot of clean looks.”
The third quarter was characterized by combative possessions. Both sets of players tightened up inside and were not allowing easy buckets. Thus, the quarter was full of missed opportunities from both sides. The Bears were able to reduce the deficit to two points through Brown, but Utah answered back immediately with a three from Tilar Clark. Erika Bean then added two more to the score, and it was back to square one for the home side. Cal went into the final quarter trailing 54-47.
Bean started the final period with a three, giving her side a 10 point lead. Utah then adopted a no risk strategy as it attempted to take time with each possession, and start running down the clock. The Bears, on the other hand, entered frantic mode and started harrowing Utah on every possession. Their sub-standard offensive efficiency did not improve and Utah was able to maintain the lead with clutch baskets. Cal’s comeback attempt proved to be futile.
This season the Bears have flattered to deceive. The wins over the LA schools seemed to present a resurgence, but that was all put to rest tonight. Anigwe had a very erratic night, scoring 22 points, but shooting five of 13 from the field. Cowling and Brown were the other Cal players who racked up points in double figures, but that was not enough to overcome Utah.
“They beat us,” Gottlieb said. “We didn’t have enough to beat them. It is disappointing, but not discouraging and we’re ready for our match on Sunday.”
Devang Prasad covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]