Cal women’s basketball loses 55-60 thriller against Arizona Wildcats

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Four years into her decorated career, senior Kristine Anigwe has taken the title of second all-time on the Cal women’s basketball scoring list. Anigwe achieved the feat during a 55-60 Bears loss against the Arizona Wildcats.

The talented forward finished the game with yet another double-double, posting 19 points and 20 boards, with eight on the offensive end. Anigwe currently leads the NCAA in rebounds, averaging just under 14 per game during her 2018-19 campaign.

Unfortunately for Anigwe, her milestone came during an intense game that ended in Cal’s loss to the Wildcats. Arizona stands as one of the best defensive teams in the Pac-12, and they didn’t hesitate to show it during this conference battle.

The Wildcats’ suffocating defense caused the Bears to score well below their season average of 73 points per game. Arizona forced 18 Cal turnovers, stifling the hopeful Bears with a 2-3 zone defense.

Normally, this type of zone defense is ineffective because it draws opposing players away from the basket, instead packing the paint with three defenders. Against great 3-point shooters, this can be a very poor strategy because of the strong number of looks it can generate on the perimeter.

But with the Bears struggling mightily from beyond the arc, the Wildcats were able to halt much of Cal’s paint-heavy offense. The Bears did come back with a strong rally in the second half and dominated the third quarter, but their 11-point first-half deficit was just too much to overcome.

For Arizona, redshirt sophomore Aari McDonald lit up her home court with 36 points on five made threes. In her first season with the Wildcats, McDonald looked every bit her title as the NCAA’s third-leading scorer — she even added four steals to complete her strong two-way game.

Next to McDonald, freshman star Cate Reese had an impressive night herself, playing both ends of the court with some key defense on Anigwe. Reese finished with 10 points and nine rebounds, narrowly missing a double-double.

For the Bears, graduate student Receé Caldwell had one of her best games of the season — Caldwell finally found her touch offensively with an efficient 13 points to go with four rebounds and six assists. Caldwell was a key part of the Bears’ third- and fourth-quarter runs that kept them in the game.

This puts Cal at 1-2 for its Pac-12 play so far. While Anigwe had a fantastic night, senior guard Asha Thomas had an uncharacteristically tough game and struggled, posting just 4 points and 0-6 shooting from three.

Thomas is normally the Bears’ best shooter from beyond the arc, and without her offense, Cal could not make up the difference. Sophomore Kianna Smith did her best to compensate, scoring 8 points — all in the second half — and making some key baskets for the Bears down the stretch. The Wildcats, however, would not back down.

Cal will end its Arizona road trip after facing No. 19 Arizona State on Sunday. The Bears have had a rocky few games to start their Pac-12 play, but a strong game against a ranked opponent could put them back on track.

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