Sometimes you can find success even in heartbreaking failure. Cal women’s basketball experienced that Sunday night, and the team’s crushing overtime loss should be taken as a positive sign that they are headed in the right direction.
Cal women’s basketball fought tooth and nail Sunday night with one of the nation’s best, pushing No. 10 UCLA into overtime. Ultimately, the upset bid fell just short as the Bears’ lost a heartbreaker 74-70. Still, it was a thrilling game of basketball that the blue and gold should be proud of. The teams traded baskets all game long in an intense back-and-forth matchup, but in the end, the Bruins triumphed.
“Well that was a doozy,” said Cal head coach Charmin Smith. “I think it was an exciting Pac-12 women’s basketball game. Both teams played extremely hard and gave a ton of effort. And unfortunately we came up just a little bit short but I’m proud of how we battled, how we competed, against a really good team.”
The Bears came out sloppy in the first quarter, turning the ball over seven times and failing to find a rhythm. The buckets they did get were earned at the foul line, as Cal dropped eight of their 14 first quarter points from the charity stripe. The Bears struggled in open play, shooting a dreadful 3-11 from the field and 0-5 for three. The Bruins were almost the complete opposite, making only one free throw, but using hot three-point shooting to pull away. UCLA went 5-7 from three-point land to open up a 22-14 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Bears came alive in the second quarter and fought their way back into the game. Cal used a 7-0 run to turn a potential blowout loss into a game that would go down to the wire and the Bears entered the break down just 36-32.
Neither team was able to pull away in the fourth quarter. The building came alive in the final minutes, with the crowd on its feet as both teams battled to the very end. The tense, electric atmosphere remained throughout the fourth and overtime as the players clashed in search of a victory.
Free throws from senior center CJ West knotted the game at 63 with a little more than a minute to go, and neither team would score from there. The Bruins had three potential game-winning shots in the last 25 seconds as they continued to secure offensive rebounds, but couldn’t seal the deal and the game headed to overtime.
Although UCLA secured rebounds at the end of the fourth, overall, the Bears’ dominance of the boards was a key reason they were able to stay in the game. Cal won the rebounding battle 55-39 by the end of the night.
“If we didn’t keep them off of the glass we had no chance. That was more the mindset and the mentality and I loved how aggressive we were,” Smith said.
CJ West was a big part of that, recording her third double-double of the season — 11 points, 12 rebounds — to keep the Bears in the game. The last few games have made it clear how important West’s health is to this team.
The Bruins had the edge in overtime, however, using their experience to lock the Bears down and earn a hard-fought 74-70 win. The push was sparked by UCLA’s star Michaela Onyenwere, who came alive in the second half to finish play with a game-high 21 points after putting up only 5 in the first half.
Despite the heartbreaking loss, the Bears have a lot to be proud of after the fight they put up against a team who now has a 21-2 record. UCLA head coach Cori Close had high praise for their performance and Smith’s work with the team.
“She is going to build a great program here. Period,” Close said. “She is so sharp and has inspired me in the way that she fights for her players and for women in the sport, specifically women of color. I really admire who she is and the foundation in which she is building this program.”
“You don’t get rewarded right away even though you’re growing,” Close said. “And I feel like Charmin is putting a lot of positives on the correct side of the scale — and just because it hasn’t tipped, doesn’t mean she isn’t doing an awesome job. I really respect who she is and the program she is going to build here. I’m happy she’s in the Pac-12.”
This game will go down as another positive building block for this young Cal team. Although they didn’t win, this game is a sign that the Bears are headed in a positive direction.
The Bears will be back in action Friday against the Colorado Buffaloes.
Benjamin Coleman covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].