For a moment in the first half, there was a feeling in the building that Cal women’s basketball was going to pull off an upset over Washington State. Everyone in the arena could feel the energy and belief emanating from the Bears’ bench. But it all came undone by the Cougars’ second-half surge, propelling Washington State to a 61-49 victory over the Bears.
“I’m disappointed with the outcome — I thought we had a solid game plan and we started off well … And then we struggled through the third and fourth quarter. Washington State is a good team, so unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be for us today,” Cal head coach Charmin Smith said.
Cal’s first-half performance was about as good as you could ask for, especially considering it was the underdog 10th seed in the matchup. Jayda Curry got off to a scorching start, scoring 6 of Cal’s 10 first-quarter points. On the other end, the Bears’ defense was able to limit Charlisse Leger-Walker to only 2 points on 1-4 shooting from the field in the first quarter.
Cal was able to extend its lead in the second quarter thanks to the bench efforts of Mia Mastrov. Mastrov hasn’t gotten the most playing time this season, but was ready for the bright lights, scoring 8 crucial points in the second quarter.
“It was a credit to my teammates. They were able to get me open and spaced the floor. They were rotating and giving me open looks and drives to the basket. I’m just trying to do what I can to help win,” Mastrov said.
But it was only a matter of time before Leger-Walker caught fire. She responded with 10 points in the second quarter and single-handedly kept the Cougars in the game. Additionally, the Cougars dominated the offensive boards in the first half 11-4, which gave them second-chance opportunities that kept the team afloat.
Cal’s 27-21 first-half lead quickly dwindled in the second half. Leger-Walker continued her offensive explosion with 11 more points on 4-6 shooting from the field. Cal was able to rattle Washington State in the first half. In the second half, though, the Cougars came out and matched their energy.
“In the first half we were frantic and let their pressure and on-ball pressure get to us and muck up our offensive game. So, coming out in the second half and having the sets and spreading the floor and moving the ball a lot more, getting good looks and really punishing them for their defensive schemes if they were switching,” Leger-Walker said about the Cougars’ second-half comeback.
The Bears seemed to lose any semblance of momentum after Michelle Onyiah fouled Ula Motuga on a 3-pointer, which allowed the Cougars to tie the game. It also didn’t help that Onyiah was hit with an intentional foul toward the end of the quarter, giving Washington State the lead.
In the fourth, Cal couldn’t buy a bucket. Other than Curry, the offense went cold. None of the starters — not Leilani McIntosh, not Evelien Lutje Schipholt, not Kemery Martín or Peanut Tuitele — could find the bottom of the net to help ease Curry’s scoring burden, ultimately dooming the team to Washington State’s comeback surge and effectively ending Cal’s season.
After the game, Curry reflected on the season and her sophomore year as the program prepares for next season.
“I think for me, reflecting on the relationships we built as a team off the court was probably my favorite part of the season … both on and off the court we had great relationships with each other,” Curry said. “We were able to laugh and have fun and I’m able to appreciate that during times where we aren’t winning every game.”
Cal will lose key starters in Lutje Schipholt and Tuitele, who are graduating, but will retain its signature Curry-McIntosh backcourt. The program will need some big additions in the offseason to get over the first round of the Pac-12 tournament, a feat it hasn’t accomplished since 2020.