What is the best way to make your first basket in a game? It doesn’t get any better than a game-winner at the buzzer, and that’s exactly what Cal senior Asha Thomas did Thursday night.
With Thomas’ first field goal, Cal women’s basketball upset No. 8 Stanford at Haas Pavilion with a score of 81-80.
“I like big moments,” Thomas said. “The ball is in my hand, and I have the chance to make a play, whether it is for myself, whether it is for others, yeah, I want the ball in my hands.”
Thomas was quiet all game long, as she scored her first points on the foul line with 9.5 seconds to go. After a missed 3-pointer by freshman McKenzie Forbes, the shortest player on the court grabbed the offensive rebound and got fouled. Thomas, Cal’s best free-throw shooter, sank both attempts for a 79-78 Cal lead.
After a well-designed play coming off the timeout, Stanford found a quick layup with DiJonai Carrington. Even though Carrington missed the layup, she got fouled by Kristine Anigwe, and Carrington made both attempts from the charity stripe to take the lead back for the Cardinal with seven seconds left on the clock. Carrington finished the game with a team-high 23 points off 7-of-11 shooting from the field and 8 of 12 from the line. She completed the double-double with 12 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough for a Stanford win.
Thomas had other plans. After the timeout, she called a high screen, crossed off her defender and dived inside for a tough left-handed layup in traffic, beating the buzzer and giving the Cal faithful an upset win they will remember for some time. Thomas finished the game with 4 points, all coming in the last 10 seconds, displaying her composure and clutch mentality.
Cal had all kind of ups and lows this season, and hosting Stanford at home was the way to revive the team’s hopes.
“It goes without saying that any win against Stanford feels extra special because of how good they are, how prepared they are,” said Cal heach coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “So, it makes everything more meaningful.”
Even though the Bears showed an overall team performance, as four players reached double-digit scoring, Anigwe again managed to shine for her third 20-20 performance. Anigwe achieved her 20th double-double of the season just in the first half. With a game-high 25 points and season-high 24 rebounds, Anigwe played big on both ends of the floor. Anigwe’s 11 offensive rebounds gave the Bears extra chances that were crucial in a game that was close all the way.
The Bears did also manage to keep Stanford star Alanna Smith in check. Even though Smith scored 21 points, she managed that feat with 22 shot attempts, hitting only nine and shooting a mere two of nine behind the arc.
Throughout the game, the Bears and the Cardinal tied for 13 times, and there were 18 lead changes, including several inside the last minute. The biggest lead for Cal was only 6, and Stanford could only manage a 5-point lead at one point in the game.
As predicted, both sides battled hard for the rebounds and tied at 38 rebounds each. Stanford had a one-rebound advantage on the offensive board, though, as Cal struggled to secure the board under its own basket toward the end of the game.
“I’ve coached a lot of games against Stanford as an assistant and as a head coach. They are the best at taking away a team’s strengths that I have ever seen,” Gottlieb said. “The team should be celebrating, but at the same time, this gives us a chance to get a sweep, and that’s what we talked about starting this.”
The Bears and the Cardinal were matched up evenly at every aspect of the game except 3-point shooting. Cal had one of its better days behind the arc, shooting 40 percent on 30 attempts, while Stanford only made five of its 23 attempts for 21.7. The Bears’ hot shooting night was led by Kianna Smith and Jaelyn Brown, who shot four of six each. Smith finished the game on the bench with five fouls after scoring 16 points, and Brown was the spark plug for the team with 18 points and several hustle plays.
After both sides were tied at 38 at the half, the Cardinal started the second half with more energy. Stanford seemed to be running away, but a block by Anigwe under the basket and a charge taken by Brown on back-to-back possessions fired up both the Bears and the crowd.
“This crowd was terrific,” Gottlieb said. “On a Thursday night, in a late game, it makes a huge difference at battle, and I think we needed it.”
Playing at home is always an advantage, but the Cal faithful were in sync with the Bears all game long, providing crucial energy on a late Thursday night. Everyone got extra motivation for Friday as Thomas called game.
Cal will have the chance to sweep the Battle of the Bay against its rival on Saturday, as the series is carried to Maples Pavilion at 4 p.m.