Pac-12 play for Cal women’s basketball ended just as it began — with a slew of crushing losses. Thursday, No. 8 Utah exhibited its nationally ranked prowess, handling the Bears forcefully from the get-go to the tune of a 101-76 thumping. Saturday afternoon in Boulder, the blue and gold capped off their regular season with a sour taste, underperforming against the Buffs, falling 69-95.
Thursday’s matchup held significant weight for the Utes as they vied for the Pac-12 regular-season title, and the home team certainly fulfilled its must-win mentality. Cal’s opening struggles, rattled by the tempo and failing to convert high-percentage shots, sent Utah off to the races. The Utes quickly created a 2-15 deficit in the first quarter.
After throwing the first punches, the Bears spun Utah into a brief lull in the second quarter. Led by Jayda Curry (who finished the night with 28 points, a shooting percentage of 58 and five assists), Cal struck a rhythm, battling to tie the game at four separate points in the second quarter. Although the Bears cleaned up their defensive pressure and notched 30 points in this period, they never seized the lead.
As Cal pushed to hang tight, Pac-12 Player of the Year and leading scorer, Alissa Pili, had a different agenda. With a game-time decision clearing her sprained ankle, Pili dominated, contributing 26 points on 9-14 shooting in a reduced 23 minutes of playing time.
The other half of her backcourt tandem, Jenna Johnson, also imposed her forces upon the Bears, collecting 21 points primarily in the paint. Together, the duo controlled the interior on both ends of the floor, as the Utes tallied 27 converted layups.
A leak in consistency in the third quarter for the Bears fed Utah’s appetite for more. Limited minutes for forward Evelien Lutje Schipholt meant Cal struggled to defend the paint and secure boards in the second half. In an astonishing margin, the Utes punished the Bears in the battle for rebounds, snatching 39 to Cal’s 24. Cal head coach Charmin Smith reflected on her team’s flailing performance in the latter half.
“We let them have too many easy looks inside. If you let Jenna (Johnson) and Pili touch the ball, they’re going to score,” Smith said.
Saturday’s finale against Colorado once again featured a promising first-half production by the Bears, only to be followed by a downhill turning point after halftime. Falling into a 2-9 deficit in the opening minutes, Kemery Martin, Michelle Onyiah and Curry embarked on Cal’s redemption arc, converting on consecutive possessions to put the Bears down 6 at the break.
This time with no Lutje Schipholt, who was unavailable due to illness, Curry and Martin attempted to compensate, affording 26 and 12 points, respectively. While Cal’s shooters could strike, the lack of great presence inside sealed the Bears’ fate. Colorado center Aaronette Vonleh was unstoppable, collecting her career high of 25 points. Winning physical battles on the interior, the Buffs’ Quay Miller grabbed 11 of the team’s 33 rebounds.
Colorado also shared the basketball well, recording its season high in assists with 23. Turnovers proved killer for the Bears, who lost possession of the ball 18 times, allowing Colorado’s 15 fast-break points. On the contrary, the Buffs kept turnovers to their second lowest this season, with just nine.
While the last week was not quite the final push the Bears were hoping for, Washington State awaits Cal in Las Vegas for the opening round of the Pac-12 tournament. Previously this season, Charlisse Leger-Walker and the Cougars handed Cal a 10-point loss. A team of prolific offensive threats, the blue and gold will face a fierce opponent in Washington State, but Curry’s recent offensive rhythm could turn a corner for Cal in postseason play.