That’s the core principle coach Charmin Smith demands of her defense: Don’t allow the opponents to gain any ground or find any open look without putting up a fight to deny them.
In Thursday’s 81-62 win over Westmont College, Cal women’s basketball opened its season by putting those words into action. Despite playing an exhibition game that will not count toward season standings, the Bears showed tenacity on the defensive end and set a tone for the new season as a tough and physical team.
While some teams may lay back during an exhibition, the Bears stormed into Haas Pavilion with no regard for comfort. From the opening whistle, they were diving for loose balls, being physical in the paint and battling for every rebound. They hustled to close out on shooters and make the right rotations. Before the game, Smith made defensive activity a point of emphasis.
“We want to talk about forcing contested shots, not giving up open looks and being in gaps,” Smith said. “We want to be more ‘one on Cal’ than ‘one on one.’”
Her team certainly listened to her. They defended as a unit, with constant activity and help from all five Bears on the court. In one particularly impressive third-quarter sequence, Westmont got the ball in the deep post, but Cal was able to deny all passing lanes and came away with a streak and fast break. On the very next possession, Westmont once again got deep post positioning and, Cal then snuffed out all possible passing lanes. The team was forced into a late shot clock post move that junior forward Evelien Lutje Schipholt swiped out of the air, leading to another fast break and open look.
Cailyn Crocker embodied this defensive spirit as much as anyone on the court. After missing the entirety of last season due to injury, the junior guard put on a defensive clinic in her return to the court. The stat sheet only shows two steals and one block, which doesn’t do her performance justice. She locked down almost everyone she faced, preventing drives and contesting every shot. Lutje Schipholt was just as physically imposing, with a jaw-dropping 13 offensive rebounds.
On the offensive end, the unquestioned star of this game was Jayda Curry. Donning number 30, she was a familiar sight for those in the Bay Area accustomed to watching that name and number getting buckets at will. The freshman guard put up 23 points on 8-15 shooting and 3-7 from long range. Her ability to shoot opened up a ton of scoring opportunities as a pick and roll handler, as she was able to repeatedly punish defenders who went under screens. When she wasn’t firing from deep, she showed just as much promise in the midrange. She seems most comfortable at the left elbow, where she is willing to pull up with no hesitation if her defender gives her space.
Even more impressive than Curry’s skill was her toughness. After leaving the game holding her lower leg in pain, she subbed back in just a few minutes later. She continued her fantastic play until she went down again holding the same leg. This was simply an exhibition game, and nobody would bat an eye if she took it easy for the final few minutes. But that’s not Curry. She subbed back in for a third time, clearly limping. Once again, she played well and had to leave with more discomfort. Luckily, she didn’t appear to have any serious injury after rejoining her teammates on the bench. Not many players show that determination in games that do count, let alone ones that don’t.
And even though this game doesn’t officially count, the promise and raw determination that Cal displayed is certainly a promising sign for the new season.