Something has clicked for the Bears.
On Sunday, Cal women’s basketball – which was projected to finish last in a PAC-12 preseason coaches’ poll – ran the University of San Francisco out of Chase Center to the tune of a 70-41 beat down.
The team was led by its new starting backcourt: Jayda Curry and Leilani McIntosh. The two young guards are only four games into their collegiate careers as teammates, but they’re already looking like one of the more formidable backcourts in the conference.
Curry led the way for the Bears’ offense, scoring 27 points on an efficient 7/12 from the field and 11/13 from the line. Those 13 free-throw attempts were the result of her relentless slashing of the Dons’ perimeter defense. Curry repeatedly drove to the basket, leaving USF post defenders no choice but to foul her before she could put up easy layups. Though she had struggled to attack the basket in Tuesday’s game against Sacramento State, Curry didn’t let that affect her mentality Saturday.
“In the Sac State game, I was getting into the basket. I just couldn’t finish. Going into this game, I wanted to keep attacking and not let up in that aspect,” Curry said. “Getting to the basket and getting to the free-throw line opens up more options — not only for myself, but for my teammates.”
McIntosh stood out as well. She exited the game with 10 points, six rebounds and a team-high four assists while going 2-4 from three in the process. Moreover, she consistently made the right decisions with the ball, as evidenced by her zero turnovers in 28 minutes of action.
The junior was even more impressive on the defensive end. Smaller guards on the court aren’t often defensive difference-makers, but McIntosh defied those expectations by picking up her assignment full court, crashing the passing lanes and drawing charges.
While Curry and McIntosh may not have shared the court until this season, the two guards had been on each other’s radars long before they teamed up in Berkeley. They once played for the same club but in different age groups. Even though they had never played together, McIntosh recognized Curry’s talent from afar — and when she saw Cal on Curry’s list of the top five college programs she considered committing to, she knew she had to act quickly.
“When she had posted her top five, I was recruiting hard from the jump,” McIntosh said. “I saw how she played when we were on West Coast Premiere, and I just knew that she would be a great fit here.”
Now that she’s shared the court with Curry, McIntosh says the fit between them is even better than it looked on paper.
“I feel like we’ve gotten these rotations down. I know where she is, and she knows what I’m looking for. When I look at her in the eyes, she knows, ‘Oh backdoor here,’ or, ‘She’s about to get a three,’ ” McIntosh said.
Even outside of their starting backcourt, the Bears were humming on all cylinders. They scored 26 points in the paint while holding the Dons to a measly 10. They shot less than half as many threes as the opposition but made the same amount. But perhaps most importantly, Cal outrebounded USF 47-25.
Two of the biggest contributors on the low blocks were Jadyn Bush and Fatou Samb. Bush led the team with 10 rebounds, five of them coming on the offensive end. She constantly repositioned around the basket and found the best angle to jump for loose balls.
Samb, the Bears’ center, grabbed seven rebounds in just 14 minutes. The sophomore had only played four minutes in the entire season going into Saturday’s matchup, but she made the most of the opportunity by playing great defense, setting hard screens and gobbling up boards.
The Bears have remained undefeated throughout their first four games and look to continue that run against Utah State on Tuesday. If they continue to get this level of production out of their backcourt, it may be a while until the blue and gold suffer their first loss.
Casey Grae covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].