No. 24 Cal women’s basketball throttles BYU 70-45 without star junior

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No school. No star player. No problem. Despite the absence of junior forward Kristine Anigwe, it was only a matter of minutes for the No. 24 Cal women’s basketball team (8-2) to establish the upper hand against the visiting Brigham Young University Cougars (4-6). Behind a season-high 21 points from senior guard Mikayla Cowling, the Bears recorded a third consecutive home victory in blowout fashion, running away from BYU 70-45.

On a night when backcourt mate junior Asha Thomas struggled and Anigwe was kept out of the game to rest, Cowling would step up and bear the offensive load.

While Cowling would finish 8 of 13 from the field, including 4 of 5 beyond the arc, it was her defense that allowed Cal to race out to an early lead. Cowling shut down a reigning WCC Player of the Year in BYU senior Cassie Devashrayee, holding her to just 4 of 15 shooting from the field as the Bears’ top defender held her own on both sides of the ball.

It’s difficult to win games scoring just 5 points in any quarter, let alone the opening quarter. Thanks to the defense of Cowling and multiple frontcourt players who stepped up in Anigwe’s place, the Bears allowed the fewest points in a quarter this season, racing out to a commanding 22-5 lead after the first 10 minutes of play.

The Cougars did themselves no favors by shooting just 6 of 18 from the free-throw line for the game, a testament to just how rough a day it was for Devashrayee and company. As the only BYU player who would finish the game in double figures, Devashrayee became the primary focus of Cal’s defense. In the end, her teammates couldn’t capitalize on the opportunities they received.

Thanks to another impressive performance by freshman Kianna Smith, Cal began the second half on a 16-2 run after being outscored 16-13 in the second quarter. With the Bears’ men’s basketball team facing off against CSU Fullerton, which features Smith’s brother Jamal and her father John as an associate head coach, Smith’s 12 points and team-leading five assists meant something a little extra with her family looking on.

Starting in place of Anigwe was sophomore CJ West who, along with Cowling, freshman Alaysia Styles and senior Penina Davidson, recorded at least seven rebounds in the contest. Collectively, Cal outrebounded BYU 55-36, reflective of the Bears’ depth down low and the Cougars’ rough offensive night.

With another dismantling in the books by Cal, only a tough road matchup against Kentucky this Thursday remains on the nonconference schedule. Regardless of that game’s result, the Bears have done more than enough to show their conference opponents that they are a team on the rise — with or without their All-American forward in the lineup.

Josh Yuen is an assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].