Like many Cal fans, I got up at 9:00 in the morning with the attitude that our team had nothing to lose and everything to gain in a matchup with #1 UConn. I only follow the Cal women and had not seen a single minute of UConn basketball all season, but the stats speak for themselves. I'm generally partial to tempo-free stats, but when you score more points than any team in the nation, and give up less points than every team but one, tempo tends to become pretty damn irrelevant.
So I wasn't optimistic. But as the first ten minutes of the game progressed, Cal played with passion and intensity, and with a high level of execution. Our guards moved the ball crisply, we got the ball inside to our bigs when we could, and we took (and made) the outside shots we were being given. Despite the somewhat arrogant comments made by Mr. Auriemma at halftime, Cal broke out to an 8 point lead because they exploited UConn's defense. Like most teams Cal plays, the Huskies did their best to shut down Hampton and Walker. For the first 14 minutes of the game they failed. Ashley had 16 points from all over the court, and our other players were nailing open shots. Cal had opened the biggest lead (8 points) UConn had faced all year, and probably played their best 14 minutes of basketball in the four years of Walker, Hampton and Grey-Lawson.
via the A.P. via ESPN.com - Unstoppable for 14 minutes!
Then, with 5:59 to go in the half, Natasha Vital picked up her 2nd foul. This forced Coach Boyle to make her first substitution of the game, bringing in Kelsey Adrian. Up to that point Natasha hadn't contributed much to the score sheet (5 points, 2 assists and a rebound) but six minutes later it was clear how critical her level of play was to Cal's early lead. Natasha doesn't excel in one particular area, but she tends to do everything well and has one trait in particular that seemed Vital (ha, get it?) to Cal's chances: She's the only player fast enough to control UConn in transition.
via the A.P. via ESPN.com - MVP of the game?
As soon as she left Adrian was exposed on both defense, where she had trouble keeping up with UConn's rediculous back court speed, and on offense, when she lacked the speed and handles to deal with UConn's pressure. She badly missed two three point attempts, and Cal quickly was behind by four points. Two free throws from Lexi cut the deficit to 2 at the half but the feeling that Cal was outplaying UConn was gone. Unfortunately, it never came back.
Cal scored 10 points in the first 8 minutes of the 2nd half. Meanwhile, UConn scored 22. Coach Boyle's necessary strategy of playing her starters led to a group of tired, demoralized players. UConn finished off another bludgeoning on their seemingly inevitable bloodbath towards a championship.
So what did UConn do so well to win? Just about everything. They outshot Cal (44.4% to 30.4%). They outrebounded Cal by 5. They took 7 more shots than Cal and turned it over 9 fewer times. But what sticks out both from memory and from the box score is 3 point shooting. 9-16 is crazy good! But more important is when they came. UConn shot 4-6 in the first 14 minutes when Cal was on fire. Those 12 points kept the game close. If they shoot closer to their season average, Cal has a 14 point lead instead of 8 and the complexion might have changed. But when you see the whole domination across the board in the final score sheet it's clear how very good UConn is, and how difficult pulling off the upset will be for the 3 teams that may get the chance.
To send us into the off-season, here are some quotes from/about our seniors, reflecting on the most decorated 4 years of any female ballers in school history:
Ashley- It was great to get a chance to play with the people I did. Our class in particular chose to come to Cal because it was in our back yard. We're all from that area. It was a no name program at the time. We all wanted to establish ourselves. We wanted to play premier basketball against great teams, and then Coach Boyle came along. She's done that for us. As a group we've made this program what it is and left a little bit of a legacy behind us so the seven freshmen coming in can see what we have done and make another push and really put Cal on the map in the next couple years. It's been an amazing ride and journey. I wouldn't pick any other 11 girls to play with.
Devanei Hampton- Coming in you couldn't even tell who Cal was. Coming in and establishing our presence, Me, Alexis, and Ashley our freshman year, we opened some doors and we rang the bell. Over these four years we've progressed. These years have been amazing, Coach Boyle is a terrific coach, she turned down Duke to stay here with us that showed a lot. She's the driver to our train. This journey has been magnificent. Me Alexis and Ashley, we couldn't pick a better group of girls to play with.
Coach Boyle- We sat in there and I was looking at them and I told them, `You know it's one game, you're not leaving us.' I'm watching California written across their jerseys thinking you're such a part of this school; you're such a part of this team and family. Cal hasn't had any history. To now begin with this group and who they are and what they've done, they came in without a lot of upperclassmen, to find their way and figure it out all on their own. They laid the foundation for Cal basketball, they took it to the next level, and they left their legacy.
Comment starter: What are your expectations for next year and what will you remember most about Ashley and Dev?