Harnessing emotion is key in any sport. Sometimes, the pressure to perform is overwhelming. The chance at glory is simply too much. If you’re looking for an example, think of the Golden State Warriors and its 3-1 lead in the 2016 NBA Finals …
While this season’s Cal women’s basketball team and the 2016 Warriors share very few similarities, they both struggle to execute down the stretch, even when all of the emotion and energy is working in their favor.
Even after an underwhelming season in which an NCAA tournament berth was ruled out of the picture quite early on, there was no shortage of energy coursing through Haas Pavilion on Sunday afternoon for Senior Night. Guard Sara Anastasieska, guard Mi’Cole Cayton, forward Jaelyn Brown, center CJ West and center Chen Yue were all honored before the game with flowers and a picture with head coach Charmin Smith and their respective families.
With players’ families in attendance and heartfelt recognitions of senior players before the game, the unspoken expectation was that the Bears would send off their senior players by finally earning a Pac-12 home win in 2020.
But a storybook ending for Cal’s five seniors simply was not meant to be. In what started as a stubborn defensive showing from both teams, Cal women’s basketball (10-17, 2-14) fell to No. 15 Oregon State (20-8, 8-8) for the second time this season, 76-63.
“It was a really emotional day for a lot of reasons,” Smith said. “I know we didn’t play particularly well today, but just the feel and the commitment to one another I think is truly something special.”
Smith’s team, which has steadily improved over the course of the season, did manage to keep it much closer than in its prior clash with OSU. In their previous matchup Jan. 17, the Beavers demolished the Bears, 81-44, the blue and gold’s second-worst loss of the season.
It was not all doom and gloom from the start, either. The Bears showed some promise right out of the gate, winning the first quarter 16-14 after a buzzer-beating floater by freshman guard Leilani McIntosh that had the crowd on their feet.
Despite a frustrating second quarter on the offensive side of the ball, the Bears managed to put up a measly 8 points, a high-energy defense kept the Beavers from finding a rhythm. Going into the half, Cal trailed by just 1 point to the No. 15 team in the country, 25-24.
But in keeping with the storyline of this season, the Bears did not execute when it mattered most.
Cal was slow to contest midrange jumpers from senior forward Madison Washington in the third quarter, who knocked down three uncontested shots from the same spot at the top of the key in a span of just three minutes. The senior from Las Vegas finished with 10 points, 8 of which came off of wide-open shots from close range.
Senior guard Mikayla Pivec, who is averaging 15 points per game on the season, led Oregon State with 24 points.
Failure to get inside the paint for easier points forced the Bears to take low-percentage, forced shots. Cal shot just 37% from the field, and just 12 of its 63 points were layups, compared to Oregon State’s 28.
Freshman guard Cailyn Crocker was once again a silver lining for the Bears, scoring 17 points in just 27 minutes of action. She is now averaging 19.3 points over her last three games.
After becoming the 31st player in Cal women’s basketball history to crack 1,000 career points against No. 3 Oregon last Friday, Brown also showed out in her last game at Haas Pavilion. Brown, who leads Cal in scoring with 14.9 points per game and scored 26 points against the Ducks, tied Crocker as her team’s leading scorer in the game with 17 points.
Perhaps the highlight of the afternoon for Cal fans was Yue, who has struggled to break into the starting five this year as a senior, hitting a jumper from close range in the first quarter. The crowd reacted as if the Bears had hit a crucial three in crunch time to show support for Yue. The senior from Beijing, who averaged 1.8 points per game over her Cal career, finished with 6 points on the afternoon.
When asked what it was like to walk off the Haas Pavilion court for the last time, Yue made sure to thank the fans.
“I mean it’s just really emotional because I feel like Cal fans are so amazing because they will support us no matter if it’s a win or a loss,” Yue said. “We really truly appreciate our Cal fans.”
A bright future lies ahead of the Bears, but on Sunday afternoon, Cal failed yet again to harness the energy of the Cal faithful and defend their Haas.
William Cooke covers women’s basketball. Contact him at