Southern California teams await Bears as team hits final stretch of season

A basketball player holds the ball and prepares to shoot a basket.
Lorenzo Dela Cruz /Staff

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Like the sweet day of relief after a midterm that you knew would come but never really prepared for, the week after a four-game top-10 gauntlet has arrived for the Cal women’s basketball team. This weekend, the Bears head down to Southern California for matchups against USC and UCLA.

The past two weeks have been a rollercoaster of emotions for Cal. In the weekend series against then-No. 8 Stanford, the Bears won the first contest on a buzzer-beating layup from Asha Thomas and then fell in blowout fashion two days later.

The most recent homestand against Oregon and Oregon State featured a similar mix of excitement and despair. Kristine Anigwe became Cal’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder, and Thomas broke the all-time 3-point record. Still, Cal lost both games to the Pacific Northwestern teams and now sits at 14-9 with a 5-7 record in conference play.

“We’re disappointed,” said head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “But I think that we’ve probably learned some valuable lessons going through this stretch, even though we wanted to be better than 1-3.”

For Thomas, the individual accolades didn’t do much to ease the pain of losing three consecutive games.

“These records, legacy — that’s nice,” Thomas said. “But I think what’s more important is getting these wins, and in the position that we’re in right now, we need to get wins.”

The Bears will have the chance to do just that and get back in the win column in LA tonight when they face off against USC (14-9, 4-8).

When Cal and USC first squared off in January, the Bears built up an 18-point lead midway through the third quarter and weathered a furious comeback from the Trojans to escape by seven, 66-59.

Mariya Moore carried USC that day. The senior transfer from Louisville and former first-team All-ACC selection caught fire, going 7-14 from beyond the arc for a game-high 36 points. No other Trojan had more than 6 points, as the Bears held leading scorer Minyon Moore, Mariya’s younger sister, to 2-11 from the field.

Aliyah Mazyck, who didn’t play in the first matchup, will also give the Trojans a much-needed scoring spark — the senior guard is a volume scorer, averaging 14.1 points per contest.

On Sunday, the Bears will look to avenge their early season loss against the UCLA Bruins (15-9, 8-4), who are currently riding a six-game winning streak.

The first matchup between the two teams went into overtime, and the Bruins prevailed 84-79. Sophomore sensation Michaela Onyenwere led UCLA with 29 points and currently paces the Bruins with 17.6 points per contest.

Coming into this critical weekend, defense will be the focal point for the Bears. Cal scored 74 points against a stingy Oregon State defense that allows an average of just 58.8 per game, but the Bears conceded 82.

“Defensively, moving forward, I just think we need to be more aggressive and (stick to) our game plan,” Anigwe said. “I feel like (the Oregon State) game taught us a lot of how those guards didn’t give up — they did their game plan and they eventually won.”

After stumbling through one of the toughest four-game stretches of the season with a heart-pounding win and some hard-earned lessons, the Bears are off to Southern California where they’ll look to pick up a couple wins to kick off the home stretch of the regular season.

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