Tale of the Tape: Change of roles creates easy layup

Diagram of Cal and Utah player positions and ball movement
Ashley Zhang/Staff

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Cal women’s basketball’s season has had all the ups and downs possible, but there has been one thing that hasn’t changed throughout the last five months: Kristine Anigwe’s dominance.

The senior center/forward has started in all of the Bears’ 31 games this season while dominating the court in every second of her 34.5 average minutes per game. Anigwe is the leading rebounder in the nation with 16.3 rebounds per game and seventh in the NCAA with 22.9 points per game. With a double-double in every game, it is not hard to imagine Anigwe being the name on top of the scouting report of every team that has faced Cal this season.

The 6’4” senior is also grabbing 5.6 offensive rebounds every game, making things hard for the defenses, even when she is not the one shooting the ball. Because of this, double-teams on Anigwe became a usual occurrence in the season — except the times when she was triple-teamed.

Even though Anigwe displayed that she can give tremendous stats every time she hits the floor with her size and speed, the Bears did a great job feeding her in the post. Veteran guards such as senior Asha Thomas and graduate student Recee Caldwell decorated the highlights with lob passes down the post to Anigwe. These lobs may not be alley-oops to be dunked, but they are pretty layups worth the same number of points as a dunk.

In this play, we see a clever set drawn by head coach Lindsay Gottlieb with unusual roles for the players for an easy layup by Anigwe. This play is from a loss to Utah, but it is a testament to the true basketball the Bears play whether they come up with a win or not.

The quick set starts with junior center CJ West on the right wing passing the ball to freshman forward McKenzie Forbes, who is finishing her cut to the top of the key. All good so far…

At the same time, however, sophomore guard Kianna Smith goes under the basket to set an off-ball screen for Anigwe, who is in the right short corner. The screen allows Anigwe to cut to the basket unguarded.

A perfect feed from Forbes turns into an easy layup for Anigwe under the basket. Considering how much Anigwe fights to get the ball inside the rim usually, battling between defenders to open up space, this occasion must have felt like drinking ice-cold lemonade on the beach (it’s almost spring break time after all).

We have seen several times this season when Cal guards dribble around and find Anigwe in the perfect spot or just drop the ball to her on the post, but seeing a guard put a screen for her post player is not an everyday sighting.

This is a testament to the Bears’ collective effort on the offense to utilize the benefits of having a dominant player such as Anigwe.

The defensive players, perhaps surprised by the off-ball screen by the 6’0” guard, let Anigwe go free. Unable to switch on defense to cut the passing lane, the Utes gave up an easy layup under their basket.

There is another important factor in this play that is not captured in the video: Thomas is waiting on the opposite corner. Because of the senior guard’s 3-point threat, it is not possible to bring help defense from that side of the court. Thomas is well capable of punishing the defense for it, creating the spacing needed for Anigwe.

That is the pretty part of the play because the play starts with Cal’s center, West, passing the ball outside the arc. If Thomas was the one to start the play and West was inside, there wouldn’t be a free space for Anigwe to cut, or if West was waiting outside in the corner where Thomas was, help defense could come in for Anigwe, risking West’s long-range shot.

All the pieces were in the right place, and it resulted in a textbook-worthy play for the Bears.

There were times in the season when Cal seemed to rely on its senior too much, but, at the same time, Anigwe always found something crazy to do to make you think, “Why would you not give her the ball whenever it is possible?”

Since the opposing defenses did whatever they could to make giving the ball to Anigwe less possible, however, Cal had to come up with plays such as this one from time to time to create good looks. And for the sake of basketball, I’m glad they did.

Can Sariöz is an assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @can_sarioz.