Frontcourt dominant as Cal women’s basketball stays undefeated

Lorenzo Dela Cruz/Staff

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Past and present collided today in Haas Pavilion as Cal women’s basketball took on UC Santa Barbara, but the present prevailed as the Bears ran away with a 69-45 victory.

The matchup was the first between the two schools since 1992, and it carried a little extra meaning, as the coaches on either sideline have history with both Cal and UCSB.

Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb spent three years as UC Santa Barbara’s head coach before returning to UC Berkeley where she had served as an assistant for the three previous seasons. Sunday was also a homecoming for UCSB assistant coach Eliza Pierre, a member of Cal’s 2013 Final Four squad under Gottlieb.

Both teams got off to slow starts, as halfway through the first quarter, the Bears had just 3 points, finishing the quarter with a mere 8, as they settled for 3s and couldn’t feed Kristine Anigwe in the post. Cal shot 16.7 percent and converted on just two field goals, unable to find a rhythm early on.

The Cal defense, though, was stingy, as four blocks — including two by Jaelyn Brown on the same possession — held UCSB to 7 points in the first.

In the second quarter, both teams turned it around. For the Gauchos, junior Tal Sahar single-handedly sparked the offense. Sahar converted on five consecutive 3-pointers, including a couple very deep ones, and scored 15 of UCSB’s 17 points in the second quarter.

The Bears took the opposite approach. After going 1-6 from three in the first quarter, Cal focused on getting interior looks. The Bears penetrated off the dribble — taking just one 3-pointer in the second quarter — which simultaneously opened up more post entries once the ball started skipping around.

The result was a 25-point second quarter for the Bears on 58 percent shooting. The increase in close-range attempts also created opportunities for offensive rebounds, and Anigwe capitalized. The senior standout grabbed 11 rebounds in the first half alone and scored multiple point-blank put-backs, earning her ninth double-double in as many games this season.

While Sahar kept UCSB alive with an incredible shooting display, Cal’s offense was unstoppable, and the Bears made an 11-0 run to close the half with a 33-24 lead.

The second half was the same story for Cal, as it continued to attack and move the ball around. With Anigwe attracting attention on offense, Cal’s bench got involved, combining for 30 points.

And after living by the three in the second quarter, the Gauchos died by it in the second half. Shots stopped falling for UCSB, and without the ability to score inside, the Gauchos floundered.

In the end, the Bears rolled to another convincing victory, overcoming some early struggles and sloppy play to remain perfect on the season.

At 9-0, Cal is now looking forward to a highly anticipated showdown with UConn on Sunday. Both schools are currently undefeated and ranked in the AP Top 15, with the matchup set to be Cal’s fifth against a No. 1 team and the first at home.

The past three games against No. 1 teams have all been versus UConn, the most recent being a 47-82 defeat last season in Connecticut.

But as evidenced today, the past is the past, and the present Cal team can only look to the future, where it’ll look to continue its perfect season against the Huskies.

Tim Sun covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].