With many crunch-time losses this season, it would be reasonable to question Cal’s grit. But in a game that went to the wire against No. 25 USC, the Bears displayed remarkable personality to win their first game against a ranked opponent on Senior Day.
Unlike their first matchup against USC, the Bears got off to a good start, going toe-to-toe with the Trojans in a tight first quarter. Cal’s offense was sparked by hot shooting from Kemery Martín, Jayda Curry and Leilani McIntosh — the three guard combo combined for 18 of the team’s 24 first quarter points.
However, it was also clear early on that USC’s frontcourt tandem was going to cause trouble for the Bears throughout the game. Rayah Marshall and Kadi Sissoko put pressure on Cal’s interior defense, quickly putting the Bears into foul trouble.
After a heated first quarter that ended tied at 24, the game devolved into a defensive slugfest as both teams found it difficult to score. The Bears broke the tie with a miniature 5-0 run thanks to Curry and Evelien Lutje Schipholt, which forced USC to call a timeout. Sissoko responded with her own 5-0 run, with a three-pointer and a power move in the paint to stifle Cal’s momentum.
The USC forward single-handedly kept the Trojans in the game, tallying nine points in the second quarter. If not for Curry and Martín’s continued brilliance from beyond the arc, the half may not have ended tied 36-36.
In the third quarter, the two team’s top players in Curry and Sissoko put on a show that got the Haas Pavilion crowd buzzing. Curry was spectacular: The Cal guard scored 11 points in the quarter, including two three-pointers.
With the intensity of the game turned up to the max, Sissoko got hit with a technical foul for taunting after converting an and-one basket. The tech began a parade to the free throw line, keeping the game tied once again by the end of the third.
This Cal team has a tendency to collapse in the fourth quarter during close games. But McIntosh and Lutje Schipholt were determined to not let that happen on their Senior Day, demonstrating their veteran presence. McIntosh kept the Bears steady down the stretch while Lutje Schipholt collected two huge blocks and drew a critical offensive foul on Okako Adika with five minutes left to play.
“I was enjoying every second of it. I wasn’t nervous, I wasn’t stressed, I’m hearing the crowd and feeling the game,” Lutje Schipholt said about that stretch of the game. “I talked to Charmin (Smith) about this, if I’m feeling the game and just flowing, nothing else matters.”
Down 71-69 with two minutes left, Curry showed her heroics once more, drawing a shooting foul and knocking down both free throws to tie the game. But after Michelle Onyiah turned the ball over on the outlet pass, USC retook the lead at the foul line. Curry responded again to tie the game with a clutch finger roll layup, ending a four-minute field goal drought for Cal.
The Bears then forced a shot clock violation and earned a possession with 11 seconds remaining — a chance to win the game. Curry drew a shooting foul that was later deemed after time expired, sending the Bears to overtime for the first time this season.
In extra minutes, Onyiah earned the nickname “Overtime Onyiah.” The center scored Cal’s first five overtime points, all while guarding Sissoko and securing critical defensive rebounds. After McIntosh took the lead with two clutch free throws, the Bears forced Marshall into two bad misses from distance, upsetting No. 25 USC 81-78.
“When Michelle (Onyiah) is locked in on doing the right thing, she makes game winning plays and she did that today,” said head coach Smith.