Sitting at 9-3 after a blowout loss to No. 2 Stanford last Friday, Cal women’s basketball had to pick itself up. A successful start to the season had been harshly put into perspective by the Cardinal, which beat the Bears 90-69 in Palo Alto.
On New Year’s Eve, No. 18 Arizona reminded Cal once again that the Pac-12 is its own beast. The Wildcats’ defense stifled the Bears and earned a 63-56 win at Haas Pavilion.
Cal was very quick to pull the trigger from beyond the arc. But even after a cold start in which Cal went 0-5 from three in the first quarter, it stuck to what would prove to be a losing strategy, finishing just 6-24 on three-point attempts.
After trailing by 13 at halftime, the Bears tied the game in the fourth quarter. But a dagger by Arizona’s Lauren Fields put the Wildcats up four and out of reach with half a minute left in the game.
Cal’s sophomore guard Jayda Curry, the star of the Bears’ offense, had a poor night from the field, shooting just 4-18.
She did, however, make two three-point attempts to extend her streak of games with at least one made three-pointer to 35, moving past Sabrina Ionescu’s streak of 34 games for third-longest streak in the Pac-12 since 1999. Three more games and Curry will move into second, tied with Kelsey Plum.
On Monday afternoon in Haas Pavilion, head coach Charmin Smith changed strategies completely to earn a hard-fought 74-61 win over Arizona State. Winning matchups in the post, Junior forward Michelle Onyiah led the Bears in scoring with 16 points, followed closely behind by sophomore forward Claudia Langarita with 15 points off the bench.
The Bears trailed the Sun Devils by three at the end of the first half. When asked what adjustments Cal made at halftime, Smith said she couldn’t remember any changes in particular. Her team just needed a little extra motivation and she needed to voice her frustrations.
“When you’re sleepwalking, I think you just need to wake up,” said Smith. “And the other things that we said can’t be repeated in the way they were said.”
Smith admitted in the post-game press conference to exploiting size mismatches in the paint by rotating bigs. 32 points in the paint, many of which came from bigs Onyiah and Langarita, made up for another poor showing from three (26.3%).
“I thought they had some pretty quick perimeter defenders and such,” said Smith. “But I didn’t think they had the size, necessarily, to match Michelle (Onyiah) and Claudia (Langarita) in particular.”
The Bears will play No. 2 Stanford again on Sunday at 4 p.m., this time in Berkeley. Smith said she was glad that this season’s schedule allowed for two games and over a week between the two rivalry matchups, as Cal has played Stanford twice during the same weekend in many past years.
On Monday, the Cardinal beat now-No.15 Arizona 73-57 with a dominant defensive showing. As per usual, the Bears will need to contain Haley Jones and Hannah Jump, who scored 21 and 17 points respectively against Cal last Friday.
Graduate transfer forward Peanut Tuitele, who did not play against Arizona or Arizona State, has started in every game she’s played and is averaging nearly 6 points per game. Smith’s comments after the Arizona State win indicate that she might return sooner rather than later.
“I hope to have her back for Stanford,” said Smith. “I just defer to our medical staff and trainer and hopefully we’ll get a thumbs up soon.”
This is a tough run of games to open conference play, especially without an experienced starter in Tuitele. But Cal managed to get it done against a fellow unranked team in Arizona State. Upset wins against the likes of ranked Stanford and Arizona teams were unlikely, but the Bears have the talent to pull those upsets off later this season.