Points in the paint and rebounds. They’re the opposites of the home run ball. They elicit meager cheers in comparison to the three pointer.
But high-percentage shots and rebounds, not threes, are what kept Cal women’s basketball from falling behind against Arizona State this past weekend, and they know it. Friday night, the Bears beat the bottom-of-the-barrel Sun Devils 72-61 grabbing 49 boards along the way, the most in any Pac-12 game this season. The third quarter ended up being decisive, as Cal scored 17 and held Arizona State to three points through the first 10 minutes of the second half.
Sophomore guard Jayda Curry led the Bears in scoring against the Sun Devils with 21 points. She also set the new record for most consecutive Pac-12 regular season games with a made three pointer, with 46.
Then on Sunday, Arizona humbled Cal in an 80-57 shellacking at the McKale Center in Tucson. The Bears struggled in the paint and so resorted to the three ball. They couldn’t get it going from beyond the arc, either, scoring just three of their 16 three-point attempts and found themselves down 13 at halftime. The Wildcats, on the other hand, were efficient inside, earning almost half of their points in the paint.
After the Arizona State win, Cal’s second win since beating ASU in Berkeley at the very beginning of January, head coach Charmin Smith praised her team for its attention to nabbing more rebounds — a lot more rebounds. The Bears rank dead last in the Pac-12 in conference games in offensive rebounding, and second to last in defensive rebounding, so Friday’s performance can only be considered an anomaly.
“There were moments where we were really dialed in, and did a great job keeping them off the boards,” said Smith. “I thought we made a conscious effort to crash offensively, Karisma (Ortiz) had some huge boards. So I can see that we were paying attention.”
It was Cal’s defense and rebounding that got it over the line against ASU after the Bears found themselves up just one at the half. When asked what she hoped her team would carry into the Arizona game, Smith said she wanted to see more of that grit and determination.
“The kind of “take it” mentality: We don’t just want to win, we’re going to take it,” said Smith. “Staying aggressive and imposing our will, we can have some success against Arizona.”
On Sunday, however, Cal simply couldn’t stop Arizona’s Shaina Pellington, who scored 24 points on 75% from within the arc. The Bears did not, as Smith had hoped, impose their will.
Between the third and fourth quarter, Cal went on a 15-0 run against one of the best teams in the nation. But it had fallen asleep at the offensive wheel in the first half — if it had even started its engine at all — and there was simply no way back from there. If anything, the Wildcats imposed their will from the very start and the Bears eased into the fight.
It’s worth noting that Cal’s failure to get inside, draw fouls and score layups is not new. The Bears are third to last in free throws attempted amongst Pac-12 teams this season. Instead of getting downhill and forcing fouls, Cal is hoping for lights-out shooting from Curry and veteran guard Leilani McIntosh. But again, from beyond the arc, the team is just average.
Smith expressed hope and a desire for change after the ASU game. But Cal’s playing style has remained largely unchanged, and so have results.