“Any time you can score 100 points, you’ve got some weapons,” said Cal head coach Charmin Smith.
Some weapons indeed.
Saturday was a special night for Cal fans as the Bears’ 102-60 domination of McNeese State marked their first time surpassing 100 points since a 106-44 victory over Cal State Northridge in Dec. 2015; it was also the first time this happened during Charmin Smith’s young career as head coach. It was an uncontested three-ball by sophomore guard Alma Elsnitz with 23 seconds remaining in the contest that served as the final dagger to accomplish the feat, but the path was established from tipoff with Cal’s hyperefficient scoring setting the tone early. The blue and gold jumped out to an early 10-0 lead and held the Cowgirls scoreless until the 4:11 mark of the first quarter. They assumed a 48-20 lead by halftime and never looked back.
Unselfish ball movement and defiant authority in the paint brought the Bears quality looks in their offensive sets. Furthermore, Cal was beyond competent in converting its shot attempts as a 56.5% shooting percentage from the field marked a season best.
Despite an admirable shooting effort by McNeese State guard Desirae Hansen, who found the bottom of the net on five of 10 attempts from beyond the arc, the blue and gold outmatched the Cowgirls talentwise. Even as the Cowgirls adjusted to a zone defense and later a full-court press, seeking to slow down the racing Bears, Cal’s frontcourt continued to occupy the high post and find the basket. Sophomore forwards Dalayah Daniels and Michelle Onyiah finished with 17 and 16 points, respectively, and junior forward Evelien Lutje Schipholt supplied 12 points and nine rebounds.
The Bears’ guard play was a force to be reckoned with as well. In her classic manner, freshman point guard Jayda Curry put on a show, tallying 17 points on stunning 70% shooting from the field. Her aggression and seamless finishing was alive and well, as she dribbled the length of the court, bolted past an unprepared Cowgirl transition defense and converted easy layups on several occasions.
Along with Curry in the backcourt, junior guard Leilani McIntosh certified her passing prowess. The team’s leading facilitator, McIntosh impressed with her court vision, finding open teammates for eight assists.
The matchup highlighted the depth of Cal’s roster, as the routine star players shared the spotlight with the Bears’ bench. In total, 11 players scored for the Bears. Providing 57 points, significant bench performances further the potential this Cal team sees going forward. Mia Mastrov tallied her season-best 9 points in just 14 minutes of play, gaining the comfort and confidence that could potentially help her excel as a meaningful contributor. Saturday was also the first action Cal fans have seen from 6’7” sophomore forward Sela Heide this season — and head coach Smith is excited about getting more players involved.
“I want to play more people, we need everyone,” Smith said. “We need every healthy body to be ready and those that aren’t healthy to be talking and helping in any way that they can.”
Although their dominating win saw unique, exciting offensive efficiency for the Bears, they walked off the court dissatisfied with their defensive performance.
“Tonight was not our best defensive night and we should have had more transition points … we need better on-ball defense, we can’t force rotations all the time,” McIntosh said.
This contest showcased a plethora of rewarding defensive series for the blue and gold — they forced in-bounds and shot clock violations, swiped the ball for eight steals and even amassed 12 blocked shots. All are great, but this was against McNeese State, and lurking in impending view is the size, athleticism and top-performing talent of Pac-12 teams. If the Bears want to be formidable come Pac-12 play against the likes of powerhouse programs like Stanford, Arizona and Oregon State, they need to clean up defensively.
“We relied on our size way too much, just standing behind and blocking shots,” Smith said. “We got away with a ton of blocks, but I don’t see that happening in our conference against really good competition.”
With just two matchups remaining in nonconference play, the blue and gold have established a gritty winning culture within their program, racing out to a 7-2 record. They see the potential and have confidence in their weapons going forward, setting expectations high for themselves.
“We are a postseason team and there is a ton of potential. We just have to get people playing to the best of their ability at the same time … We can be very competitive in our conference, and if you are competitive in the Pac-12, then you know you can be a postseason team,” Smith said.