Form is incredibly important in college basketball, and coming into March on a hot streak can prove crucial in the madness that comes with this time of year.
Cal women’s basketball saw extremes on both sides of the form graph throughout the season, as the Bears started the season by climbing the rankings with a 9-0 record before losing five of the next six to be dropped out of the top 25 and never come back. Cal is looking to make the right adjustments, however, at the right time when things matter the most — the month full of madness.
After sweeping conference foes from the desert, highlighted by an upset of then-No. 17 Arizona State, this weekend was all about finding a rhythm going into the Pac-12 Tournament, and that’s exactly what Cal did in the state of Washington as it faced two bottom-of-the-Pac(k) teams.
On Friday, the Bears faced the Huskies, who challenged them perhaps more than they expected. Going into halftime, Cal only had a 2-point lead at 37-35, as both teams came out of the gates shooting lights out.
The Bears found the bottom of the basket 53.6 percent of the time, including an impressive 7-12 from behind the arc. While Washington made half of its six threes, its emphasis was on the inside, where the team shot 57.1 percent.
The third quarter, however, had a whole different story, as the Bears went on an 11-0 run in just two minutes on the other end, helping Cal to a comfortable 13-point lead going into the final quarter. Perhaps the Bears got too comfortable, as Washington went for a comeback effort that cut the lead to only one possession at 64-61 with 4:28 left in the game.
Asha Thomas, who scored 5 points in the last five minutes, however, did not allow the Huskies to come any closer, with the game ending in a 71-65 win. Cal’s senior guard finished the game with 16 points on 4-5 shooting behind the arc, displaying why she’s the leading 3-point shooter in program history.
Washington’s guard duo of sophomore Missy Peterson and junior Amber Melgoza did whatever they could, finishing with 23 and 22 points, respectively. Peterson went for an impressive 9-12 from the field, including 5-6 from three, but low efficiency by Melgoza, who hit 9-29 from the field and made only one of her seven 3-point attempts, hurt Washington in its comeback effort.
Kristine Anigwe had another strong night in Seattle, as she finished the game with a team-high 20 points and a game-high 18 boards. The senior center/forward must have been upset with a missed 20-20 opportunity because she posted an absurd 30-30 game two days after against Washington State, a feat no one in the nation achieved over the past 16 years.
Anigwe led the Bears to a blowout win against the Cougars with 32 points and 30 rebounds for her 30th straight double-double, breaking the Pac-12 record for most consecutive double-doubles. Making headlines all over the nation, her monster performances over the weekend brought Anigwe the ESPNW Player of the Week and Pac-12 Player of the Week honors, and she also became a semifinalist for the Naismith College Player of the Year award. Of course, let’s not forget Cal’s sweep for four straight wins as Cal prepares for Las Vegas next weekend.
The Bears did not shoot as well as they did Friday night against the Cougars, making only 34.6 percent of their 3-point attempts, but they were incredibly dominant at the rim. Cal had 50 rebounds to Washington State’s 22 (yes, Anigwe outrebounded the whole Cougars’ team, which had only eight rebounds). Washington State also made four of 17 three-point attempts, which made things easier for Cal.
The Cougars got an early 7-2 lead three minutes into the game, but a 13-0 run by the Bears ended the first 10 minutes with 25-12 displayed on the scoreboard in favor of Cal. The Bears never looked back again and earned a resounding 80-58 win. This strong outing in Pullman is even more crucial, as the teams will face off again Thursday in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas.
Cal finished the conference with a 9-9 Pac-12 record, and a recent increase in performance probably clinched them a berth in March Madness, as the Bears are projected as the eighth seed in ESPN’s bracket predictions.
Washington State will be coming for revenge in the tournament, but Anigwe and the Bears are the clear favorites to become No.7 Stanford’s opponents, taking the historic rivalry to a bigger stage.