NBA star Stephen Curry sure picked one hell of a Cal game to attend — the Cal-Stanford women’s basketball rematch was a barnburner. A game not for the faint of heart, the two collegiate rivals went toe-to-toe with one another in a performance that came down to the final possessions of the game where Stanford was able to outlast the Bears 60-56.
It was clear early on the Bears were not going to go lying down like the first matchup, which resulted in a 90-69 blowout defeat. In particular, Cal’s defense showed a much more physical and aggressive side that the team has been improving all season long.
“One of our victory conditions is, ‘Nothing easy,’ and we did that this game. They had to work for what they got for the most part,” head coach Charmin Smith said.
That work started with limiting Haley Jones and Hannah Jump, the backcourt duo that burned the Bears for 38 points in the previous game. Jayda Curry got the Jump assignment and shadowed her throughout the game. As Smith put it, Curry had to be so close to Jump she could “taste what flavor bubble gum she’s chewing,” and her efforts limited her to seven points on 2-6 shooting.
The Jones assignment was shared between Kemery Martín and Karisma Ortiz, with Ortiz finding the most success. Ortiz engaged Jones early in transition opportunities and forced her to take tougher shots, keeping her at a manageable 12 points. The Bears held Stanford to 26 points in the first half and 60 points total, well below its 84.6 season average.
But in the second half, the Cardinal offense came to life. Curry led the Bears in the 3rd, collecting 7 points and clinching her 37th consecutive game with a three pointer, the third longest streak in Pac-12 history. However, Cameron Brink kept Stanford alive. After a subpar first half, Brink flipped the switch, electrifying herself to a 25 point and 17 rebound double-double performance.
“Just accepting that I was going to get hit. It was a fist fight down there, so playing through contact and getting my feel for the game. My teammates did a great job finding me so it was about accepting the physicality,” Brink said.
Brink was bludgeoning the Bears in the paint before Leilani McIntosh took over in the fourth quarter. McIntosh became the lifeblood of the Cal offense, scoring nine points in the fourth and going toe-to-toe with Brink. McIntosh hit Stanford with a nasty eurostep in transition that got Stephen Curry out of his seat giddy.
Brink and McIntosh traded baskets down the stretch, culminating in a three point lead for Cal with four minutes left to play. Unfortunately for the Bears, Stanford demonstrated why it is No. 2 in the nation, closing the game on a 7-0 run to secure the victory. Jones powered her way to a go-ahead layup with 1:17 left. From there, the two teams traded misses which left the Bears with a chance to win the game or send it to overtime.
Smith called McIntosh’s number.
“The play was to get the ball in Leilani’s hands to create with Jayda in the corner and Claudia at the elbow. (Stanford) didn’t leave Jayda and Leilani wasn’t able to get to the basket for her shot and she made a good read and found Claudia at the elbow. It was a good look, she’s capable of knocking that down,” Smith said.
It looked as though McIntosh might have had an open layup and passed it up. However, with a known shotblocker in Brink lurking behind her, it made sense why McIntosh elected to find a wide-open Claudia Langarita. The battle of the bay came down to one play, which is more than anyone could have imagined for the blue and gold, who entered the game as 19.5 point underdogs.
“It’s unfortunate that you don’t get to jump around and celebrate when you work so hard,” Smith said. “You just want it to happen. We’re right there, we just have to stick with it.”