With Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry in attendance, players on both sides seemed to channel some of his energy in a hot-shooting and high-scoring affair Friday night in Haas Pavilion. The atmosphere was electric as the No. 3 Oregon Ducks came to town, led by superstar guard Sabrina Ionescu.
The Ducks came out flying in the first quarter opening up a 15-2 lead less than 4 minutes into the game. Cal was forced to call a timeout and before people were even settled in their seats, the game looked like it would turn into a route.
Instead of folding over, Cal fought hard to claw its way back into the game, closing the deficit to 4 on a 6-0 run to end the quarter. Heading into the second quarter down 23-19, the Bears were surprisingly competitive against the dominant Ducks, and looked to pull off the impossible upset.
But Oregon showed why it’s one of the top teams in the nation when it opened the second quarter with 18 straight points. A timeout from Cal was futile as the Ducks continued to push, playing like Curry’s championship Warriors teams of years past, while the Bears struggled to even stay on the floor.
Cal finally got its first basket of the quarter on a deep three from freshman Cailyn Crocker, whose stellar 15-point performance gave Cal fans a glimpse of the team’s potential future, despite the increasing deficit.
“In her second start, she’s able to knock down shots and execute game plans really well,” said Cal head coach Charmin Smith. “She’s listening, she’s learning, we can rely on her and that’s growth.”
If Crocker represents hope for Cal’s future, then senior Jaelyn Brown represents its present and past. In her penultimate game in Haas Pavilion, it was Brown, not any of Oregon’s multiple stars, who led the game in scoring. Her 26 points (including 12 in the first quarter to keep Cal in the game) helped her join the 1000 point club, and it’s a noteworthy accomplishment for a player who has contributed a lot to Cal over her career and has been a bright light in a season that’s seen its share of losses.
“I want to congratulate Jaelyn on 1000 points, it’s a really cool accomplishment and to score 26 against a top team in the country was really impressive,” Smith said.
The second quarter ended with the Ducks up 47-28 and the visitors did anything but let up in the second half. They kept rolling in the third quarter with another big run, this one consisting of 13 unanswered points, bolstering the lead.
Oregon has a number of stars who can take over a game on any given night, but tonight it was junior forward Erin Boley who took over the game with a dominant shooting performance. She exclusively scored 3-pointers, going an incredible 8-9 from deep without a single point from inside the arc in a performance that would have made Steph Curry proud.
In the end, however, Curry, his family, thousands of Duck fans and the numerous other NBA stars in attendance (including Chris Mullin and Ky Bowman) were seated at Haas Pavilion for one big reason — to see Ionescu take the court.
The senior may go down as the greatest player in college women’s basketball history, and the excitement was palpable in Haas Pavilion as fans flocked to watch her incredible play.
It felt like the entire building came to its feet when she nailed an incredible circus shot reverse layup (with the and-1 for good measure) to record the 25th triple-double of her career. For Ionescu, her 17-point, 11-rebound, 11-assist performance was just another day at the office.
“She is the Zion of last year,” said Oregon head coach Kelly Graves. “She is the most recognizable face in college basketball right now. Name me five players that are going to make the men’s All-American team this year. You don’t know. Even the casual men’s basketball fan knows who you’re talking about and they appreciate it. … It’s been fun to watch for four years.”
With Ionescu and her running mates, forwards junior Satou Sabally (16 points) and senior Ruthy Hebard (20 points) all in their final season at Oregon, the Ducks have one goal in mind — a national championship. With the way Ionescu and the Ducks looked tonight in their easy 93-61 victory, that goal seems very much in reach.
Oregon is the type of program that teams aspire to become, so getting experience against them is huge for Cal’s young core.
“Oregon, they’re a beast, and I’m proud of how we fought and the growth that we’ve shown since playing them in Eugene. We’re going to keep fighting and keep getting better every day,” Smith said.
It won’t be easy, but this season the Bears have seen firsthand the skill of some of the most elite programs in the nation. Now, they’re hoping they can grow to eventually be among them.
The Bears are back in action Sunday at 2 p.m. for Senior Night against the No. 15 Oregon State Beavers, their final game at Haas Pavilion this season.