A short-handed Cal team entered its final nonconference game Thursday night with a chance to get its season back on track, facing off against an opponent in a very similar position. Bay Area rival San Francisco also entered the game winless and highly dependent on its inexperienced freshmen. By the end of the night, though, it was the Dons who may have saved their season, earning a huge upset win over a Pac-12 team on the road. For the Bears, their nightmare year went from bad to worse.
Devastating news hit before Cal even took the court Thursday. Sophomore guard Leilani McIntosh, the Bears’ leading scorer this season, was announced out due to concussion protocol. The Bears now have four of their five guards on scholarship out with injury (the other three season-ending) and so entered the game with only seven healthy players, five of whom are freshmen.
International freshman guard Ornela Muca and senior walk-on Archer Olson, making her first start as a Bear, were called into action to run the backcourt as the only healthy guards on the roster. They played the entire game and predictably struggled, thrust into central roles they had never filled before.
Muca shot 2 for 14 from the field and 1 for 10 from three, while Olson wasn’t much better, going 1 for 9 from the field and 1 for 8 from three. The team as a whole combined for a disastrous 3-for-22 shooting performance from beyond the arc. It’s difficult to win games when your backcourt isn’t scoring, and considering the dearth of experience between Muca and Olson, as well as the fact that they’re averaging under 6 points per game this year, it’s unlikely they’ll turn the corner anytime soon.
Cal needs McIntosh on the floor to have any hope of being competitive this season. If she misses an extended number of games, the losing streak may continue for a while. Still, the severely undermanned Bears fought admirably, dropping a close contest 67-62, and had McIntosh been in the lineup, it’s likely the Bears would have won this game.
With Cal’s top guards out with injury, the Bears turned to the frontcourt to lead their offense and saw promise in this area in spite of the loss. Most notable was the play of blue-chip freshman Dalayah Daniels, who continued her stellar start to the year with a career-high 24 points.
More surprising, though, was the play of sophomore forward Evelien Lutje Schipholt, the only nonfreshman on scholarship who played Thursday for Cal. She grabbed 10 rebounds and dropped her own career high of 20 points on efficient 9-for-15 shooting. Schipholt scored no more than 10 in any of the Bears’ first three games to open the year.
If Schipholt can build off of her performance Thursday night to complement the scoring of Daniels and McIntosh, the Bears may have found a big three that can keep them competitive this season, contingent, of course, on the severity of McIntosh’s injury.
Still, to truly compete with the rest of the Pac-12, the supporting cast will need to step up. Besides Daniels and Schipholt, no Bear had more than 5 points.
The Dons were led by the standout play of redshirt freshman Ioanna Krimili, who dropped a game-high 26 points. Unlike the Bears’ leading scorers, though, Krimili had help from the rest of her team, as four other Dons finished with 7 or more points.
Cal concludes its nonconference slate winless, losing three close games at home to mid-major foes. The blue and gold’s search for their first win will only get harder from here, as they now face a menacing Pac-12 slate that kicks off Sunday against rival Stanford. The Cardinal just so happen to be ranked No. 1 in the country and are national championship favorites.
A young and undermanned Bears squad has been thrust into the fire this season, and the road only gets tougher from here. Still, the team has shown flashes of potential even in defeat, such as the play of Daniels and Schipholt on Thursday. So, while Cal may not win many games this season, the future may still be bright in Berkeley.
Benjamin Coleman covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].