Bears blown out by Washington in discouraging Pac-12 opener

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Cal women’s basketball’s tough start to the season continued Friday night in its Pac-12 opener against the Huskies. Washington came to Berkeley and dominated an undermanned Cal team 80-53, dropping the Bears to a disappointing 0-3 record.

For the Bears, the same issues that plagued them in their nonconference losses continued. Cal struggled to get its offense going all game long against a Washington team that moved the ball with ease. To make matters worse, turnovers haunted the Bears again, as Cal turned the ball over 27 times and Washington snagged 16 steals.

Unfortunately for the Bears, with three of their five guards on scholarship out with season-ending injuries, these issues may continue to trouble them throughout the year. The lack of experienced guards also meant that Cal couldn’t get the 3-point shot to fall, going 2 for 10 from beyond the arc. Washington, on the other hand, shot a solid 9 for 24 from three and used those baskets to pull away from the Bears later in the game.

The Bears stuck with the Huskies for most of the night, trailing 40-50 at the end of three quarters and even closing the deficit to 4 at one point in the third. Cal had been sloppy, but the Huskies had too, and with a strong fourth quarter, there was hope for a comeback.

Instead, the wheels fell off in an astonishing fourth-quarter performance that saw the Huskies outscore the Bears 30-13. Perhaps the most disappointing was the lack of any energy in the final 10 minutes. The players seemed to check out for the night after the first three quarters, and in the fourth, viewers saw a team that had quit on the game. The Bears didn’t just look tired; they looked defeated, lost and unmotivated.

Fans knew entering the season that a young Cal team might not win a lot of games in a loaded Pac-12, especially when news of the devastating injuries hit. Still, most were expecting a team that would battle until the end of every game. Friday’s performance seemed like a step backward from last season in every way.

The season is still young, so the Bears have ample opportunity to improve, but Friday night’s performance was not a good omen. Cal lost by 27 to a team picked to finish 11th in the Pac-12 media poll (two spots below it), and with its next Pac-12 matchup against No. 2 Stanford, things might get a whole lot worse before they get better.

Cal and Washington are similar in that they are young and rebuilding teams looking to find their identities in an unforgiving conference. But on Friday, the visitors were the only ones who looked ready to do that. And when considering the performance of the freshmen on both sides, it would be easy to mistakenly believe that the Huskies had the No. 7 recruiting class in the nation, not Cal.

The Huskies were led by the reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Week, guard Tameiya Sadler, who dominated the Bears with 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting. Her performance stings even more when considering the fact that the four-star recruit is a Bay Area local the Bears passed up on in favor of a trio of five-star recruits.

Those five-star recruits — as well as the rest of Cal’s freshmen, for that matter — were mostly invisible tonight, with center Fatou Samb being the most productive of the bunch with 10 points. Sophomore guard Leilani McIntosh was the best player for the blue and gold, leading the Bears in scoring, but she will need support if Cal hopes to turn things around this season.

“They’re listening, and they’re trying,” said head coach Charmin Smith. “We just need time to get this thing working.”

Cal will be back in action Thursday night at Haas Pavilion for its final nonconference matchup against San Francisco. After that, the Bears face a gauntlet of menacing Pac-12 matchups. If they aren’t able to get into the win column Thursday, they may not for a while.

Benjamin Coleman covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].