Cal shows off defensive firepower in exhibition win over Saint Martin’s

Photo of Cal Women's basketball player dribbling the ball
Kyle Garcia Takata/Staff

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Sometimes the best offense is good defense.

The Bears had a rough start in their match against Saint Martin’s. Turnovers, offensive fouls and missed opportunities for defensive rebounds clouded Cal’s vision of an easy victory.

The first quarter was remarkably low-scoring on both ends, with just 10 total points on the board by the end of the first period. The blue and gold struggled offensively throughout the opening minutes, remaining scoreless until sophomore forward Dalayah Daniels produced a steal on the defensive end and converted a fast break layup that jump-started Cal’s scoring efforts at the 5:31 mark.

For the rest of the game, defense was key for the Bears. Cal held the Division II program from Lacey, Washington, to 32 points on 13-48 shooting. Most notably, Saint Martin’s threw the ball away more often than it threw it in the net, with Cal’s dominating team defense forcing 34 turnovers. Sixteen steals led to 33 points, an impressive 42% of the total 79 points, drowning out Cal’s initial offensive struggles.

“We wanted to keep their field goal percentage low and really dictate and cause them to be uncomfortable, and we did that. We want to keep getting better defensively. This is a good start for us — much better than we did against Westmont,” said Cal head coach Charmin Smith.

On the offensive end, freshman point guard Jayda Curry, who led the team in scoring against Westmont College, once again defined her reputation as a reliable scorer. Curry put up 20 points on 8-13 shooting, a game high. Also integral to Cal’s victory was Daniels. Recently named a Preseason All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention, she not only led the team’s defensive efforts, but collected 18 points and 10 rebounds of her own.

While getting out in transition proved to be an effective strategy for Cal, who produced a 47-point margin of victory, the Bears still see ample room for improvement in their offensive play. In their limited opportunities to run offensive sets, the blue and gold neglected to take full advantage of their notable height advantage in the post position.

“I thought we could have asserted our look a little bit more on the low block. We need to be more effective with those one-on-one touches and take advantage of our size,” Smith said.

Although only an exhibition game that does not officially count, Thursday’s performance was a great starting point for the Bears to build upon. When offense was not coming together, Cal showed grit and determination on the defensive end, creating a spark of offensive conversion through efficient transition play. In the context of the season to come, the successful fight through a rough start Thursday night ignited momentum in the Bears, and their comfort and confidence bloomed from the first to second half.

“Looking back at last year and rolling with it, we are taking any win that we can get but also doing it the right way. I thought we’ve been improving and actually came back in the second half and were able to make those adjustments to add to the scoreboard,” Daniels said.

The blue and gold see promise of an improved season on the horizon as they hope to carry forward their defensive firepower and strong transition game into preseason and conference play. With two blowout exhibition game wins under their belt, the Bears gear up to commence their 2021-22 season against Sacramento State on Tuesday, Nov. 9, at Cal’s Haas Pavilion.

Jane Kenny covers women’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected].

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