Cal women’s basketball went through the gauntlet this weekend, opening its season on the road against Harvard and No. 5 Connecticut. The Bears lost both matchups against these tough Eastern foes but kept the games close and showed good progress as a team.
Cal, which opened the weekend with a heartbreaking matchup against Harvard on Friday, came out flying in the first half, outscoring Harvard 15-5 in the second quarter and entering the half with a 10-point lead.
The Bears went cold in the second half, though, and a furious comeback by the Crimson allowed them to sneak away with a 56-53 win. Harvard outscored Cal 37-24 in the second half, including a devastating 9-0 run in the fourth that put the Bears to bed. Harvard took control of the game with a balanced attack, led by four players in double figures. Freshman Lola Mullaney put up a game-high 14 points, and Mackenzie Barta posted a double-double (10 points 12 rebounds).
The young Cal team couldn’t hang with the rolling Harvard in crunch time. Poor shooting in the fourth quarter (3-12 from the floor), while the Crimson continued to score, ultimately led to the Bears’ downfall.
“In the first half, we capitalized on some offensive rebounds and energy plays. And in the second half, we just continued to struggle, while they got going offensively. We never really found our rhythm, and I thought we took some really ill-advised shots at times and never really found our flow,” said Cal women’s basketball head coach Charmin Smith.
The Bears’ top performers were freshmen Evelien Lutje Schipholt and Cailyn Crocker, who tallied 13 and 10 points, respectively.
“Our freshmen are extremely gifted, and they’re competitors. They’re going to be special here during their time at Cal,” Smith said.
Cal didn’t have much time to regroup after the disappointment in Cambridge, as it was right back in action Sunday to take on the fifth-ranked UConn at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion.
The Huskies are a perennial powerhouse, and women’s basketball royalty with 11 national titles, yet Cal managed to hang with them all game before ultimately falling 72-61. Despite the loss, this was a good comeback game for the Bears, as Cal showed it could run with the best of them in front of more than 9,000 fans.
After the freshmen took control of Cal’s game against Harvard, the upperclassmen took the reins against Connecticut. The Bears were led by a breakout performance from redshirt senior Sara Anastasieska, who put up a career-high 25 points.
“Sara was phenomenal. We know what she’s capable of, and we’ve seen her in practice every day. But, I’m just really excited for her that she had a chance to play at her best against UConn,” Smith said.
The Huskies eventually pulled away thanks to 24 points from Christyn Williams and 21 points from Megan Walker.
“When we play hard and we play together, we can play with anyone. I think this is just a building block, and I thought we played extremely hard for 40 minutes. We weren’t perfect, but the energy and effort were there,” Smith said. “We stuck together through adversity on this trip, and we’re going home with our heads held high, knowing that we can be better and willing to commit to the work that it’s going to take to be better.”
The Bears are back in action Sunday 5 p.m. for their home opener against UC Riverside at Haas Pavilion.
Benjamin Coleman covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].