In what was anticipated to be a battle of the guards, Cal senior forward Kristine Anigwe’s 21-point surge in the third quarter ignited an 80-79 win for Cal women’s basketball in the season opener against a fierce Houston squad.
The 21 points were a career-high for Cal’s star in a single quarter, and the most in program history since the 2015-16 season.
“Kristine was a beast,” head coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “She showed why she is one of the best, if not, and in the competition for best player in the country.”
Led by Anigwe’s superb finishing in the lane, the Bears outscored the Cougars 29-18 in the third as halftime adjustments by head coach Lindsey Gottlieb seemed to work well for Cal. The Bears managed to escape Houston’s full court press in an efficient manner in the second half, while struggling to do so in the first 20 minutes of play.
Turnovers were a big problem against Houston’s pressure, as Cal turned the ball over a whopping 21 times in the contest. Starting point guard Asha Thomas, however, recorded seven assists while turning the rock over just one time.
The Cougars’ attempt to come back from a 10-point deficit in the last 10 minutes came short when junior guard Jasymne Harris missed the game-tying three-pointer. Harris led the Cougars with 17 points with 5 of 14 shooting from the floor, one of four Houston players to record double-figures.
What appears like a high scoring affair actually came on a night when both teams struggled mightily behind the arc. Houston shot 5 of 21 from deep, while Cal was just 2 of 16.
The first three-pointers for the Bears came from grad transfer guard Recee Caldwell with one minute left in the third quarter, which also marked her first points in blue and gold.
Cal’s one bright shooting spot on the court was from the charity stripe, where the Bears converted at a solid 84 percent clip (26 of 31). Anigwe, who shot 58 percent on free throws last season, went 11 for 11 from the line, matching her career high without a miss.
Despite the season-opening win, the first half was controlled by the visiting Cougars, who kept the Bears to 29 points, the same amount as Cal’s total in the third quarter alone.
“I really believe in our team, so I challenged them in the half-time, I thought we are better we played in the first half,” Gottlieb said. “We just brought different players who can do good things and sometimes you need pressure in order for that to come out.”
The Cougars’ press and active hands caused the Bears trouble all first half long on the offensive end, as Cal was forced into 13 turnovers and settled for low percentage shots late in the shot clock. Even when they did break the pressure, poor lead passes prevented the Bears from forcing Houston to switch up its defensive scheme.
But the Cal defense didn’t bend, either. Both teams had trouble finding a rhythm from the field in the first game of the season, as the Cougars’ 33 percent shooting mark at the break barely outmatched with the Bears’ 32 percent statline.
In a matchup of two guard heavy squads, three-pointers were meant to be crucial, but no one expected such an outcome in which Cal had an 0 for 10 mark to its name from behind the arc.
Cal’s biggest weapon became Anigwe, who became especially important when the Bears’ perimeter players were having a hard time on the outside. Although the Bears’ star had to sit out most of the second quarter after getting into foul trouble, she showed up in the second half with one of the most dominant performances in her career.
“We are going to be able to shoot the three and we are going to have transition and post looks, so I just feel like we are attacking, we are going inside when we need to and we are also playing outside,” Anigwe said. “So, that’s Cal basketball, that’s what our team is doing here.”
Anigwe ended the game with her 42nd career double-double and 11th 30-point performance, going for 37 points and grabbing 13 rebounds, making sure the Bears embark on a two-game road trip on the right foot.