The Bears were hanging from a cliff all season — losing grip but holding on with every last effort. Still, their fall seemed inevitable, and for the first time this season, Cal women’s basketball is not ranked in the top 25.
All things considered, the Bears got it done when it counted and went 2-0 on their home court this weekend against visitors Colorado, 78-76, and Utah, 84-73.
The trio of junior Asha Thomas, junior Kristine Anigwe and senior Mikayla Cowling were the outright workhorses of the weekend, putting up 105 of the team’s 162 total points.
In the pair of wins, the Bears’ offense came alive, as the team broke the 70-point mark and 80-point mark for the first time since Jan. 5 and Dec. 10, respectively.
Cal headed into these matchups with an overhanging three-game losing streak — the longest of its season — and found itself in a must-win situation against a fairly weak herd of Buffaloes and a group of Utes positioned near the middle of the Pac-12 standings.
Against Colorado, the Bears pulled off a nail-biting win courtesy of clutch free-throw shooting in the waning seconds of the contest. After a flurry of offensive rebounds, Thomas found herself at the line with Cal down one with 32 seconds remaining.
The junior guard calmly sank a pair and put the Bears up by one, 77-76 — a lead that stood after the Buffaloes misfired on their remaining possessions that could have sent the game to overtime.
Cal was in need of a desperate offensive reboot as it had averaged a less-than-impressive 48 points in the three games prior to tipoff. The team got the weekend off to a solid start as it put up its most points in more than a month — its previous conference-high being 71 against Arizona State.
The Bears maintained their hot hands in Sunday’s matchup against Utah; in the first half, the team shot 60.7 percent from the field, 90.0 percent from the free throw line and splashed a perfect four buckets from beyond the arc.
In the first period alone, Cal put up 30 points — a feat that it has not accomplished all season. By halftime, the Bears’ rain from deep boosted them to a 47-32 lead over the Utes as Utah shot a goose egg in the trey category, going 0-8.
Anigwe racked up a team-leading 16 points in the first 20 minutes, aided by Thomas and sophomore Jaelyn Brown who had 8 and 9 points, respectively.
Cal remained turnover-prone, however, racking up 16 giveaways throughout the game — a number they will have to minimize as the postseason lingers in the distance.
The Bears slowed their offensive pace in the second half, totaling 37 points, but by the final buzzer, they had done enough to bag the win over Utah.
Cowling flirted with a double-double, accounting for 12 points and eight assists, playing a huge role in the victory. Thomas also had a day herself, totaling 22 points — her most since Jan. 5 — on 7 of 10 shooting from the field and 6 of 6 from the free throw line.
Still, the Bears should find themselves at least a little disgruntled, as they let both the unranked Buffaloes and Utes hang around rather than pulling away and never looking back.
The wins serve as a crude reminder that Cal hasn’t had a blowout win since Dec. 16, when it smacked BYU, 70-45.
It is not to say that Cal has faced such superb competition in conference play that it could not embarrass a team or two on the hardwood — because it should have.
All things considered, these two wins were crucial to a Cal team that was struggling. With upcoming back-to-back contests against No. 17 Stanford, the Bears need to take this energy and attempt to steal at least a split with the Cardinal.
Christie Aguilar is an assistant sports editor. Contact her at [email protected].