Cal women’s basketball hosted its final two regular-season games this past week against Washington and Washington State. In an accidental birthday present on Presidents Day, it lost both contests to George Washington’s namesakes.
The Bears dropped to 2-10 against the Pac-12 competition, and one of the victories was a forfeit by the COVID–19-stricken Arizona State. That’s a sad reality for Cal fans, and while the storm might still be oncoming, the best part of the season was arguably just before the COVID-19 calm.
It occurred in the first of these two games: the Thursday showdown against Washington. Cal would go on to lose a 61-60 heartbreaker. It was directly preceded by what looked like the worst part of the entire season.
It happened in the middle of the third quarter, with the Huskies leading 45-32. Star freshman guard Jayda Curry drove to the basket and planted her leg awkwardly; she didn’t get back up. She grabbed at her knee in anguish, unable to put any weight on it.
Curry has been the story for the Bears this season. The relatively unheralded prospect has exceeded all expectations. She’s leading the entire Pac-12 in scoring and was one of two freshmen to make the Dawn Staley Late Season Watch List. Her hot shooting and craftiness around the basket have anchored her team’s offense, and her fiery competitiveness seems infectious on the court.
At the time, it looked as if she likely suffered a serious knee injury. It appeared that Cal’s young star could be sidelined for a long time.
You would expect her team to be dejected after watching Curry get carried off of the court by coaches. UW had already built a commanding lead, and any comeback attempt would probably be waged without their top scorer.
But the Bears were unfazed. In fact, they were riled up. After their star was forced out, they began to play some of the best ball they have all year.
Over the next five minutes, Cal went on an 8-1 run. The way it happened was incredible to watch. The team played as physical as they’ve been all year, taking and dishing out contact. They locked in on the defensive end, making quick rotations and staying in front of their assignment. On offense, they swung the ball around and repeatedly put pressure on the rim, collapsing the Huskies’ defense. The Bears hunted down every loose ball and jumped for every rebound.
In a sigh of relief shared by the entire Haas Pavilion, Curry returned to the bench at the end of the quarter. She subbed back in with one minute remaining — crisis averted. Just five in-game minutes after facing an apparent blowout loss with a devastating injury to its star, Cal was both healthy and on the attack.
Cal continued riding its momentum roll in the fourth quarter against the Huskies, chipping away at the deficit. Sophomore guard and forward Dalayah Daniels had one of her best games wearing the blue and gold, with a very efficient 21 points and seven rebounds. The 6’3” forward took on the role of a center in anchoring the defense. She stifled away opportunities at the rim, smartly reacted to different pick-and-roll actions and extended to the perimeter when needed.
The Bears had chances to put it away in the waning seconds, but a stuffed attempt by Curry and a bobbled rebound by junior forward Evelien Lutje Schipholt sealed their fate. What could have been their signature win of the season went down as another crushing loss.
A couple of days later, the Bears faced the Washington State Cougars to close their regular season.
Again, they fell behind; again, they rallied late; and again, it wasn’t enough.
A 19-3 run to end the game couldn’t dig the Bears out of the hole the Cougars buried them in. Guard Charlisse Leger-Walker and center Bella Murekatete combined for 37 points and 12 rebounds, leading WSU to a 73-67 victory.
Although they still have the Pac-12 tournament to avenge these conference losses, the Bears have lost their chance to finish among the top of their conference in the standings. However, this is a very young team expecting many players to return. In that pivotal stretch after Curry looked down for the count, the team showed an unbreakable resolve to fight. The Bears suffered two losses that will stay in their minds for a while. And maybe next year, with more experience under their belt, they’ll be able to use that fire as fuel to power them up the conference ladder.
Casey Grae covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].