Cal women’s basketball shows promise in close loss to Utah

Photo of Mia Mastrov of Cal Women's Basketball driving to the hoop
Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff

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Cal women’s basketball returned to action Friday night after a 21-day COVID-19 protocol hiatus and earned a disappointingly familiar result, losing 61-52 against Utah to fall to 0-12 on the season. Even in defeat, though, this wasn’t the same team fans saw before the break. For the first time in a while, the team showed signs of life.

The driving force behind Cal’s performance was newcomer Mia Mastrov, a 17-year-old guard who graduated high school early to play her first game for the Bears on Friday. It would have been understandable had she played a limited role given that she was thrown into the fire of conference play. Instead, she was the Bears’ best player, with an unforgettable debut that made her look like a star in the making.

Mastrov led the Bears in scoring with 20 points, chipped in six rebounds and made the only four 3-pointers Cal hit on the night. She was a revelation, and if she can maintain this level of play, the Bears’ first win should not be far away.

On Friday, though, a lack of a supporting cast and some troubling, persistent issues did the Bears in. Freshman forward Michelle Onyiah had a solid night in the paint and fell just short of a double-double, with 10 points and nine rebounds. But compared to Mastrov and Onyiah, the rest of the team was relatively quiet, with no other Bear scoring more than 6 points.

Players such as Dalayah Daniels and Leilani McIntosh have proven that they can step up, but until multiple members of the team can consistently put up solid performances, victories will be hard to come by.

Other old problems certainly didn’t help the Bears, either. Cal’s short-handed backcourt once again haunted it: The team gave up 21 turnovers and finished with five assists. Besides Mastrov, no one could hit a three, and Cal finished a collective 4 for 19 from beyond the arc.

On the other end of the court, the Bears’ defense struggled, especially with guarding the perimeter. The Utes made 10 threes in the game to pull away from Cal. The Bears will not be able to find that elusive first win if they can’t clean up on those errors or at least significantly reduce them.

Despite the loss, this game was definitely a step in the right direction and a far cry from the 100-41 blowout suffered at the hands of Oregon just two games ago. Even though Cal was the team coming off of an extended break, Utah also looked sloppy to start the game. The first quarter ended in a 13-13 deadlock after a defensive rock fight.

The Utes pulled away in the second, though, outscoring the Bears 23-13 in the quarter to open up a 10-point lead at the half. They never looked back from there. While Cal kept pace with the visitors in the second half, it wasn’t able to make a serious push to close the gap.

Sophomore guard Kemery Martín was the standout for Utah, scoring a game-high 21 points to lead her team to victory. She had plenty of help too, with three other Utes contributing 8 or more points.

The Bears won’t have much time to think about the loss, as they are right back in action Sunday against Colorado. The Buffs (4-8 in Pac-12 play) are one of the conference’s weaker teams, so Cal may have an opportunity to find that elusive first victory.

Friday night’s loss is certainly disappointing for Cal, but on the back of Mastrov’s impressive debut, the Bears gave fans hope in the midst of a dark losing streak. If the team continues to improve, it may soon find a way to translate those glimmers of hope into wins.

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