After a back and forth first half that saw Cal and UC Riverside tied at the break, the Bears got hot in the second half to knock off the Highlanders 84-61.
This marks the first win of the season for Cal women’s basketball, and after a tough East Coast road trip, getting a win, in its home opener no less, couldn’t have come at a better time. Their dominating second-half performance gave fans a chance to see just how good this team can be at its best.
The Bears were inconsistent in the first half, opening up an 11-point lead only to squander it, ending the second quarter in a 36-36 tie.
“That first half, I don’t want to see that again,” said Cal head coach Charmin Smith. “We’re much better than that, and we have to lock in on being focused and ready to go for 40 minutes. We had an 11-point lead, and then we lost our focus and got sloppy.”
Shaky shooting and disorganization plagued the Bears, and they headed into the break knowing they needed to improve.
“I thought we were very sloppy in the first half, and we had really poor shot selection,” Smith said. “I articulated that in the locker room at halftime, and the group agreed that we weren’t playing up to our potential, and they wanted to make a statement in the second half and show who we are as a team.”
The Bears came out flying in the second half, outscoring the Highlanders by 23 points en route to a confident win. Cal was firing on all cylinders in the second half, showing the potential this team has when it’s at its best.
The Bears were once again carried by a balanced offensive attack, with four players scoring in the double figures.
For the second game in a row, the Bears were led by redshirt senior Sara Anastasieska, putting up a team-leading 17 points and efficient 7-9 shooting just days after her career-high 25 points against UConn.
“The coaches and all of the staff and players really helped me get back to where I am,” Anastasieska said. “They push me every day to be better in games, and I’m given opportunities to make passes and am given great passes from my teammates to make shots. It feels really good that we get wins as a team. Our chemistry as a team is very good; that’s what made it easier to come back quicker.”
Her senior classmates CJ West (12 points) and Jaelyn Brown (10 points) joined her in tallying more than 10 points, while freshman Leilani McIntosh showed her potential in an impressive 15-point, 4-steal performance.
Meanwhile, the Highlanders were carried by Jannon Otto’s 24-point, 7-rebound game, but unlike the Bears, they couldn’t produce a balanced, team attack. No other Highlander had more than eight points.
Scoring made the difference in the end, as the Bears ran away from the Highlanders with consistent buckets, while UC Riverside went cold, including a run of 12 missed shots in the second half. This marks the first win for Smith as Cal head coach, and an important one to set the standard for the rest of the season.
“It’s good to get the first win,” Smith said. “What I told the team in the locker room is that I am really excited and happy that this first season for me as a head coach is with this group. They really couldn’t be a better group of people, and it just feels good every day. I am very grateful that I get to share this experience with them.”
The Bears are back in action Thursday against San Diego State and will hope to establish some game-to-game consistency despite going on the road for the third time this season.
“What I’ve asked of this team is that we perform at a consistent level and to the best of our ability,” Smith said. “I think that gives us the best chance for success.”
The game tips off 6:30 p.m. in Viejas Arena.
Benjamin Coleman covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].