Road woes continue as Cal women’s basketball drops 2 games in SoCal

Basketball player jumps in the air with the ball as if to score a basket as a player from the opponent team blocks her.
Lorenzo Dela Cruz /File

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This season has been like a broken record for the Cal women’s basketball team, and the story this past weekend in Hollywood followed the same script. After two back-and-forth games, Cal fell in disappointing fashion to USC, 86-76, and UCLA, 80-74.

In the matchup against USC on Friday, the Trojans got off to a hot start, scoring 26 points in the first quarter to build a lead that reached 13 early in the second quarter. But a 14-2 run by the Bears midway through the second quarter cut the deficit to 1, as Cal went 6-7 from the field during that stretch.

Kristine Anigwe was the engine for the Bears’ offense. Cal took advantage of USC’s weakness at the center position and force-fed Anigwe in the post. The senior standout torched the Trojans for 18 of her 30 points in the first half, using her size and quickness to get past USC’s Kayla Overbeck for layups.

In the third quarter, the Bears continued their surge, even building up a 7-point lead before a couple quick baskets by the Trojans erased it. The stalemate continued into the final quarter as both sides traded baskets, with neither team able to pull away.

But with four minutes left, the Bears ran out of gas. A 1-point Cal lead turned into a 10-point defeat, as the Bears managed just 2 points during the final 3:58 of the game.

For the Trojans, guards Aliyah Mazyck and Minyon Moore carried the team to victory, combining for 55 of USC’s 86 points. Moore was extremely efficient, going 9-12 from the field and 9-11 from the line while playing the full 40 minutes.

And after missing the first contest back in January, Mazyck made her mark on this one. The senior scored 8 straight points in the first quarter off two 3-pointers and a jumper, and she followed it up with a variety of drives and pullups in the second half for a team-high 28.

On Sunday, the Bruins were also led by a dynamic duo, as Japreece Dean and Michaela Onyenwere combined for 51 of UCLA’s 80 points. In the first half, these two carried the Bruins to a 10-point lead, with Onyenwere scoring from everywhere on the floor and Dean dishing out five of her seven assists.

In the third quarter, the Bears roared back to cut the lead to 1, and everyone got involved. After a 17-point first half, Anigwe scored just 4 in the third, as her teammates eased her burden offensively. Jaelyn Brown scored 9 points, while Kianna Smith and Receé Caldwell each added 3-pointers.

But in a script that anyone in Hollywood could write, the Bears faltered in crunch time once again. They remained within striking distance for the entire fourth quarter, but with just over two minutes left, a big 3-pointer by Dean stretched the lead from 3 to 6, which became the final margin.

After another 0-2 weekend, the Bears now sit at 5-9 in conference play and have dropped to ninth place in the Pac-12. While they’ve remained competitive against the top tier of the conference, their only win against the top six teams was on a buzzer-beater versus Stanford. So while the Bears have a chance to make an upset in tournament play, they’ll need to get better if they want different outcomes.

The glaring problem for Cal is its defense. On the offensive end, Anigwe’s 23 and 15 give them enough firepower to compete, but the Bears’ porous defense keeps them from completing their comebacks and closing out games. The Bears regularly allow other teams to score more than their season average and let opposing players such as Dean go for career highs.

With just two weeks left in the regular season, time is running out for the Bears. And with a matchup against No. 17 Arizona State coming up Friday, the Bears will need to make changes if they want to flip the script and get back in the win column.

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