Cal women’s basketball loses competitive contest in Colorado

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Cal women’s basketball continued its nightmare season Friday afternoon as the Bears dropped a 75-59 contest in Boulder, falling to 0-11 on the year. However, for the first time in a while, Cal showed signs of life and several positive trends in a hard-fought game.

The Bears had hit, perhaps, a new low in their last outing, a 100-41 shellacking at the hands of No. 10 Oregon where seemingly nothing went right. When news came out that experienced forward Evelien Lutje Schipholt would be sitting out this game due to concussion protocol, it became apparent that today’s game had the potential to take this season from bad to worse.

Cal was taking a shorthanded lineup of five freshmen and one sophomore on scholarship into a road battle against a competitive Pac-12 foe. However, instead of rolling over, the blue and gold fought hard, and issues that had been plaguing them all season finally looked as though they were getting solved.

The most noticeable of these trends was an improvement in three-point shooting. Cal entered this game shooting a dismal 17% from three-point range, a mark that places them at No. 335 among 336 Division I teams in the country. One can look no further than the team’s last game for proof — the Bears went 1-16 from beyond the arc against the Ducks.

Today, however, everything changed. Cal shot a season-high 27 three-pointers and connected on 10 of them, finishing the game shooting a scorching hot 37% from deep.

This was made possible by the play of the team’s backcourt. Sophomore guard Leilani McIntosh once again stepped up for the Bears, scoring a team-high 14 points on 4-7 shooting from three and dishing out 10 assists. The most shocking development, though, was the play of fellow guard Ornela Muca.

Muca, a freshman from Greece, had been a black hole on offense all season long and struggled early on in her career after being forced into action when three starting guards suffered season-ending injuries. She entered today’s clash averaging just 2.7 points per game and shooting 11% from the field, despite averaging more than 25 minutes per game. Muca had drained only six of 46 three-point attempts up to this point, and almost single-handedly tanked Cal’s shooting percentage with her lack of offensive efficiency.

Well, 11 games into her collegiate career, everything came together for Muca. The freshman guard stepped up and scored a career-high 11 points, while notching three triples in as many attempts. If she can consistently play as she did tonight, the blue and gold may finally boast a competent backcourt and possess a much better chance at getting into the win column for the first time this season. With a 3-8 Utah up next on the schedule, the Bears have a perfect opportunity to do just that.

Other young players flashed signs of promise today as well. The group was headlined by freshman forward Ugonne Onyiah, who had her first career double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Still, familiar issues continued to hurt the Bears — the team surrendered 18 turnovers and shot a poor 56% from the free-throw line.

Colorado overpowered a shorthanded Cal team that was struggling with the altitude by making use of its depth. An incredible 14 Buffaloes saw the court tonight, and 12 of them found themselves on the scoreboard by the end of the night.

They were led by the duo of senior forward Mya Hollingshed and freshman guard Frida Formann, who stretched the blue and gold’s defense and found pockets across the floor. Hollingshed dominated the Bears inside with 18 points and 9 rebounds. Formann, meanwhile, torched Cal from the perimeter, pouring in 19 points of her own behind five of six shooting from outside.

Ultimately, the depth of Colorado and stellar play of its stars was too much to overcome for the visiting Bears, who continue to deal with injury problems. Still, Cal looked to have finally turned a corner today, and if the team continues to improve, it should soon find a way into the win column for the first time this season.

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