The basketball world seemed to stand still Sunday, as news of Kobe Bryant’s death surfaced and hit the hearts of players, fans and coaches everywhere. Games themselves seemed meaningless, and the somber mood was reflected after Cal women’s basketball’s 62-50 loss to Colorado.
“(It’s) a really tough moment just because you realize life is short,” said Cal head coach Charmin Smith. “We talked in the locker room about how it’s not wins and losses, but it’s relationships and how we treat one another and how we show up for one another.”
Although Smith did not know Bryant, freshman guard Leilani McIntosh had a chance to meet the basketball legend and his daughter this past summer while working at a tournament at which his team was playing.
“I (talked) to him about how he’s evolving and changing the game of basketball for women,” McIntosh said. “It’s just a lot to process right now.”
The first report came just 30 minutes before Cal and Colorado tipped off, and confirmation from other news sources continued to stream in during the contest. Smith said she shared the news with the team before they could find out elsewhere.
During the game itself, the Bears lost an early lead and were unable to fight back from a double-digit second half deficit. With the loss, they moved to 0-8 in Pac-12 play for their worst conference start this millenium.
The Bears got off to a strong start, shooting 50% from the field in the first quarter, including big three-pointers from freshmen Jazlen Green and Cailyn Crocker.
After a back-and-forth second quarter, Cal and Colorado headed into the intermission tied at 30. Thirteen unanswered points from the Buffs then forced the Bears to play a game of catch-up they couldn’t win.
“We came out flat to start the second half and dug ourselves a hole,” Smith said. “It’s just really tough in this conference when you do that, and then we weren’t able to get back in control.”
The Bears did battle back, however, as a quick run of their own cut the lead to just four heading into the final quarter. With the game still hanging in the balance, Cal and Colorado traded baskets, the Buffs fending off every potential lead change.
In the end, a series of turnovers from Cal barred any chance of completing the comeback, and the Bears lost another game that started close and got away from them at the end. It was their shooting woes that hurt the Bears again Sunday, as they shot just 36% from the field and 2-18 from three.
Among the bright spots for the Bears is the increased involvement and confidence from the freshman class. McIntosh, Green and Crocker, along with fellow newcomer Evelien Lutje Schipholt, combined for 16 of Cal’s 20 first-quarter points — and although still looking to gain consistency, the group provides hope for the Bears moving forward in this season and into the next.
Sunday was also Cal’s third straight contest without senior center CJ West, forcing Schipholt, who recorded a career-high in minutes, to take on a larger role off the bench. The 6’2” forward from the Netherlands gives the Bears a mobile low-post presence to complement West and 6’7” center Chen Yue.
Always positive and patient, Smith remains happy with Cal’s tenacity, but acknowledged that her team’s youth and inexperience will make it an uphill battle in securing their first conference victory.
“We want to see the effort and we want to see growth, and I think we’re getting that every game,” Smith said. “If we can get everyone on the same page in the same game, playing at their highest level, I think we’ll be able to get that W.”
Up next is Cal’s last chance at a victory in the month of January, as the Bears travel to Pullman to face off with the Washington State Cougars on Friday. The game will be broadcasted on Pac-12 Networks at 7 p.m.