The lead was like a mirage: every time the Bears came close, it would disappear as if it was just an illusion. The Cal women’s basketball team kept chasing it though — in the end, however, victory was just out of reach, as the hosts fell to No. 13 Kentucky 63-61 in Haas Pavilion on Saturday.
The Bears got a quick taste of the lead after scoring the game’s first basket, but soon fell behind and were unable to nose ahead despite evening the score six times. The last tie was 61-61, but a Kentucky jumper with three seconds left sealed the win for the Wildcats.
“We’re disappointed not to be able to come away with the win,” said Cal head coach Charmin Smith. “We dug ourselves into some holes throughout the game, not being able to knock down shots and not being able to take care of the ball. I was really proud of our fight to be able to battle back and have a chance to win the game.”
A cycle of self-inflicted setbacks followed by short spurts of positive play was the story of the game for Cal.
In the first half, shooting was the issue: the Bears went 0-10 from three-point range, shot 25.8% from the field and were never able to find a rhythm on offense. But strong defense — holding Kentucky to 28.1% shooting and the Wildcats’ superstar guard Rhyne Howard to just five first half points — kept the game tied at 22 going into the break.
In the second half, it was turnovers. Six giveaways by Cal in the first five minutes of the third quarter allowed Kentucky to go on a 16-5 run to start the half in a game where Kentucky outscored Cal 23-12 in points off turnovers. This time the offense kept Cal close: the Bears shot 61.9% from the field, and seven different players chipped in at least four second-half points.
Still, the lead was as elusive as ever. A 5-0 Cal run at the end of the third quarter cut the lead to five, but Kentucky pushed it back to 11 behind 17 consecutive points from Howard. The Bears never stopped chipping away, though, and a three-pointer by freshman Jazlen Green cut the lead to three with a minute left.
Down the stretch, Cal had opportunities to gain the lead, but multiple missed free throws gave Kentucky possession with nine seconds left and the score tied at 61. The ball naturally went to Howard, and she delivered her 28th and 29th points of the game with the game-winning jumper.
Although Cal’s seven-game winning streak came to an end, a bright spot this season continues to be the play of the freshman class. Four freshmen are in the rotation and combine for an average of 25 points per game. On Saturday it was Green who hit the biggest shot of the day to make it a one-possession game with one minute remaining.
“It feels like my confidence from my team and my coaches is there,” Green said. “Because the ball could’ve (gone) to anyone, but when it comes to me, I just know that I’m here for a reason, it came to me for a reason, and I’m here to knock down the shot.”
The Bears wrap up preseason play with their final game of the year — and decade — on Sunday at home against Grand Canyon.
Tim Sun covers women’s basketball. Contact him at