No. 23 Cal women’s basketball runs past BYU to start season 3-0

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One hundred games. 100 starts. 1,002 points.

Cal senior guard Asha Thomas hit all kinds of milestones during Cal women’s basketball’s 70-52 win over BYU, most notably becoming the 30th player in program history to eclipse 1,000 career points. To make things even sweeter, Thomas ended the night with a game-high 17 points to complement seven assists.

“Oakland’s own” orchestrated Cal’s offense perfectly to lead the Bears to a 3-0 start. But what made the senior guard’s performance especially impressive was how well she took care of the ball. With seven dimes, Thomas only had one turnover against the Cougars.

The 5’4” guard’s low dribble gives her an amazing handle, letting her slice through defenses without losing control.

While Thomas led the Bears with a strong individual performance, Cal as a team could not seem to take care of the ball. By the end of the game, the Bears had committed 18 total turnovers to BYU’s 12.

Although their offense has been dominant to start the season, the Bears’ tendency to surrender the rock will eventually give opposing teams just enough breathing room to claw their way back into close games.

Cal saw this firsthand in the opening quarter. Even after a strong 7-2 start to the game, Cal finished the first with as many makes as turnovers: three. Cal could not find a clear rhythm, posting a field goal percentage of only 15 by the end of the quarter.

The Cougars capitalized on this offensive slump, stringing together a 12-3 run to finish the first quarter.

The Bears quickly got out of their offensive funk in the second quarter, but their turnovers still remained a key issue. There’s no better example for this than sophomore Kianna Smith. The talented shooter dominated from behind the arc, knocking down three early triples. But behind her rain of threes, she coughed the ball up three times, giving the Cougars ample opportunities to stay in the game.

BYU responded to Cal with strong play by sophomore Paisley Johnson and freshman Shaylee Gonzales. The two guards combined for more than half of the Cougars’ points, fueling them through the first half. Unfortunately for the Cougars, the Bears just had too much star power to overcome.

ESPNW National Player of the Week senior Kristine Anigwe entered the game averaging a monster 30 points and 18 boards. With Thomas, Smith and Anigwe spearheading the Bears offense, the Cougars simply didn’t have an answer in the fourth quarter.

What made Cal’s offense truly formidable, however, was its whopping plus-19 advantage in free throw attempts. In a game in which Cal won by 18 points, this advantage at the line was invaluable for the Bears.

In particular, Anigwe has made her living at the line thus far into the season. Primarily scoring in the paint, the center had 11 attempts from the charity stripe, converting six of them. If Cal’s star can continue to improve on her efficiency at the line, she will be practically impossible to stop.

Thomas and Anigwe will be Cal’s two most important players this season. Standing as the leaders of the team, their performance will set the tone for the Bears going forward, and after securing an undefeated start to begin the year, their season is looking awfully bright.

Harshil Desai covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @harshdailycal.