If there is one word to describe Cal women’s basketball season so far, it would be heartbreak. The Bears once again failed to close out a close matchup, as the Washington Huskies narrowly beat the blue and gold 67-64.
Despite coming off a dominant 19-point victory against the GCU Antelopes, Cal came out of the gate sluggish and ill prepared. The Bears shot only 25% from the field, and scored only 24 points in the first half, their third lowest scoring half this season. Turnovers and early foul trouble killed any momentum Cal could muster, as the Bears gave the ball away 10 times and star forward Jaelyn Brown picked up two early fouls that limited the team’s scoring options.
“We didn’t do much in the first half to mix it up,” said Cal head coach Charmin Smith in a post-game press conference. “Jaelyn was in foul trouble, we were just limited.”
Defensively, the Bears struggled to contain senior guard Amber Melgoza, who exploded out the gate for 18 points on 7-9 shooting, nearing her season high in scoring after just one half. Melgoza and the Huskies feasted on Cal’s inability to maintain a defensive presence inside, as Washington scored 20 points in the paint. The half ended 36-24 in favor of the Huskies.
The difference between the Bears’ first and second halves was like night and day — they scored 22 points in the third period, including a small 13-8 run that cut Washington’s lead to 6 as the quarter ended. Melgoza, who had started with arguably the best half of her career, was limited to only 4 of 10 shooting in the third quarter.
Cal continued its impressive comeback with an 10-4 run to open the fourth period, capped off with a three-point play from senior Sara Anastasieska that gave the Bears their first lead since 8:02 left to play in the first quarter. After exchanging buckets and blows, forward Evelien Lutje Schipholt nailed two free throws to give Cal a 64-61 lead with just 1:14 remaining.
Melgoza, the bane of the Bears’ existence, once again reared her head to rattle in a long-range bomb that tied the game at 64 apiece. After Brown missed a jump shot, Melgoza buried another dagger to give the Huskies a two-point advantage. Cal freshman Jazlen Green missed two three-pointers in two possessions and Washington made one free throw to close out the game 67-64.
This game marks two out of the last three that were decided by less than three points, as the Bears bore witness to another game winning jump shot from Kentucky just two weeks ago.
“Obviously we are disappointed,” Smith said. “We dug ourselves too big of a hole in the first half, and were not able to make enough shots and get enough stops down the stretch to get the victory.”
Unfortunately for the Bears, they won’t have much time to regroup and prepare as Washington State comes to town Sunday. The Cougars are led by a pair of seniors, forward Borislava Hristova and Chanelle Molina who average 18.6 and 15.5 points per game, respectively. The dynamic duo are two of the Pac-12’s top six scorers, and if Cal continues to struggle defensively, the twosome could explode for an offensive onslaught that could bury the Bears.
“Molina is a handful. She is a really good point guard. She is really good,” Smith said. “You know Bobby (Hristova) is no Robin to the Batman. They’re both really good players. We’re going to have to work.”
Outside of their star seniors, Washington State struggles. They score the second-lowest amount of points in the conference, averaging only 67.3 points per game. The Cougars also rank in the bottom three in the conference in rebounds and personal fouls, giving the Bears — who average 42.6 rebounds per game and shoot 75% from the free throw line — a significant route to a potential triumph.
Whether Cal will snag its first Pac-12 victory or continue conference play winless has yet to be seen, but the Bears are eager to get on the court and battle the Cougars.
“We are confident that we can bounce back and play on Sunday,” Smith said.