Bears earn 7th straight victory, outlast Santa Clara 69-65

Sam Albillo/Senior Staff

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Scoring points in the paint is the basketball equivalent to making a great block in football. It is vital to a team’s success, can make or break a performance and is rarely entertaining to watch.

The Cal women’s basketball team had 42 points in the paint in an intense, hard-fought 69-65 victory over Santa Clara, but failed to make a three-pointer for the first time this season. The win marked a seventh consecutive victory for the Bears, and although it was not the prettiest of wins, the result is all that matters.

With the loss of senior center CJ West to illness, redshirt senior Chen Yue seamlessly slotted in the center role, earning her first career double-double in just her fourth start of the season.

“It’s really exciting and I’m really appreciative of my teammates,” Yue told Pac-12 Networks after the game. “I’m so pleasured to play on this team and I just do whatever I can to give to this team.”

It wasn’t the only double-double — 26 points and 11 rebounds came from the scoring machine that is senior Jaelyn Brown. That, coupled with freshman Evelien Lutje Schipholt’s career-high 19-point, nine-rebound showing, secured Cal’s eighth straight home win, a streak dating back to last season. This performance cemented that this group of players is a force to be reckoned with.

“I think this was a good win for our program,” said head coach Charmin Smith. “Santa Clara challenged us in a lot of ways and I am glad that after giving up a lead, we were able to recover and come out with the win. I am excited about what this program is doing with having four freshmen on the floor at the end of the game. I think we are really growing and getting better every day.”

The Bears certainly had to recover from the Broncos’ challenges, whose impressive second quarter run and late-game resilience kept them in the game.

Santa Clara’s redshirt junior forward Ashlyn Herlihy hit a layup in the fourth quarter to give her team the 65-63 lead with just with 1:44 left. Cal had not trailed this late into a game during this win streak, but that meant nothing to Schipholt and the Bears’ defense.

Schipholt sunk two crucial layups to tie and take the lead with under 1:30 to go, and the Cal defense — which finished the game with four freshmen on the floor — took precious time off the clock and forced four missed shots from the Broncos to secure the win.

It was a master class of resilience for the Bears, who saw five lead changes and six ties throughout the game. Cal failed to make a three-point shot in a game for the first time this season, however, keeping the alarm bells closer to sounding off rather than falling silent in the lead-up to Pac-12 conference play.

One would argue that the Bears’ lack of distance shooters makes their offense one-dimensional in certain situations, but their output ranks in the top half of the Pac-12 so far this season in free throws made and rebounds.

Given the four top-10 ranked teams above them in the standings, the Bears have done nearly all that has been asked of them up until this point.

“We’ve been through a lot as a group,” Smith said. “For us to come out here and play the way we played against what I think is a really solid team, that adds some confidence. I’m definitely proud of what we did.”

In its final two matchups before Pac-12 play, Cal will face No. 14 Kentucky on Dec. 21 at 4 p.m., then face Grand Canyon University on Dec. 29 at 7 p.m. Both home games will be played at Haas Pavilion.

Spencer Golanka writes for Bear Bytes. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @sgolanka.