They didn’t see her running to the corner. Cal had not scored in more than four minutes, but Asha Thomas had the hot hand. She had already made five threes and now stood wide open ready to shoot another. All she needed was the ball. Kristine Anigwe swung the ball over to her, and Thomas fired away.
Thomas’ go-ahead three pointer broke a 50-50 tie with 1:22 left in the game, helping Cal pull out the 55-52 victory over No. 8 seed LSU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. This is a big win, but they aren’t done yet. The Bears will face off against No. 1 seed Baylor on Monday night.
LSU almost gave away the game early on. Cal got out to an early lead largely thanks to their defense, which held the Lady Tigers to just 28.1 percent shooting in the first half. Building their lead up to 10 points, the Bears looked to be in perfect position to control the game. But it was their turnovers that allowed LSU to keep hanging around.
LSU’s signature zone defense forced Cal into 20 turnovers, on par with the Lady Tigers’ season average of forcing opponents into 20.5 per game. Cal’s Mikayla Cowling in particular had trouble with LSU’s defense, turning the ball over 12 times. Yet for all the turnovers they forced, LSU just could not get themselves going offensively.
The stars for both teams came out to play in the third quarter. Kristine Anigwe, who only scored two points in the first half, dominated whenever she got the ball down low. Anigwe’s teammates often threw lobs to her, and armed with good position as well as a clear height advantage over LSU’s bigs, she was able to catch and quickly put it in the basket. But that was about it for Cal’s offense, and when Anigwe was in foul trouble, the Bears were unable to muster much else in its halfcourt sets.
LSU kept chopping away at the lead behind a steady dose of midrange jumpers by Chloe Jackson and Raigyne Moncrief. The Lady Tigers would finally take the lead with 7:19 left in the fourth quarter off a Jackson pullup. Anigwe quickly answered with an and-one bucket of her own to put the Bears back on top. Before long, Cal and LSU were tied up at 50 apiece with 1:25 left in the game.
Asha Thomas then made the three of her life to give the Bears the lead. Cal gave LSU several opportunities to take the lead after some subsequent head scratching turnovers, but Anigwe made sure the Bears would keep on dancing. She made a key block against Hyder with 14 seconds left in the game and then made the game-sealing free throws shortly after.
Anigwe finished the game with 15 points, 7 rebounds and 5 blocks, while Thomas scored a game-high 18 points. The Bears will need strong performances from these two players if they want any hope of beating Baylor on Monday night. While LSU was a tough opponent, Baylor will be the Bears’ toughest test yet.
Jeffrey Liu covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]