Cal Women's Week in Review: The Legend of Gray-Lawson Grows

via www.sportspagemagazine.com

With 10 minutes left in the 1st half against Washington Cal led 16-13 and Alexis Gray-Lawson had 14 points, 3 offensive rebounds and a steal.  with 8:41 left in the half she picked up her 3rd foul and was relegated to the bench until halftime.  When she re-entered the game in the 2nd half Washington had gone on a 17-8 run and led 30-25.  Everybody already knew that Gray-Lawson was Cal's most important player, but the first half was the most stark reminder of how critical her presence on the court is.  Without their leader Cal lost any semblance of offensive flow and some of their defensive intensity.

So when Lexi limped to the ground after sinking another jumper with 4:49 left in the game and was quickly surrounded by multiple trainers, Cal fans had every reason to worry.  As she described it in a brief post-game radio interview, Lexi was hit in the shin on the way up for the shot and then came down awkwardly on her right leg.  The fact that she calmly followed though to hit the shot to cut Washington's lead to just one is testament enough to her focus under fire.

As she hobbled to the bench with the aid of Cal trainers, it was entirely unclear if she would return.  Thanks to the fortuitous timing of a TV timeout plus a Cal and UW timeout, she returned with a heavily taped ankle with 2:51 left and the game tied.  Yet it was immediately clear that Lexi couldn't be her usual, dynamic self.  Her first shot was a jumper from the free throw line that she airballed right into the hands of DeNesha Stallworth for a huge (lucky) bucket and a two point lead.  There was no indication that she was able to effectively play through her ankle injury.

After Washington made one of two free throws, the magic began.  Cal began the next possession with 1:41 left and Natasha Vital missed a 3 pointer near the end of the shot clock.  Who was in the perfect position for the offensive board?  Alexis Gray-Lawson, of course.  Twenty-four seconds later she was dribbling the ball on the right wing, stopped, and launched a contested three pointer.  Swish.  Four point lead.  Washington, to their credit, refused to go down easily.  The Huskies scored 8 points in the final 50 seconds around 4 Natasha Vital free throws to send the game to overtime.  The final three pointer, a buzzer beating shot from the left corner by Sami Whitcomb, was over a clearly pained and fatigued Gray-Lawson.  Ooooovertime!

Fast forward to 1:38 in overtime.  Both teams have traded a bucket and a bunch of turnovers.  Lexi was clearly diminished with her sprained ankle - she had not attacked the hoop during overtime and even missed two free throws.  Then she again received the ball on the right wing, dribbled the ball through her legs a couple times, spotted up and launched a three with a defender in her face.  Swish.  (I'd like to note that  I spontaneous yelled "SHE IS SO [expletive] AWESOME" after both of Lexi's clutch 3's).  This time Cal would maintain their lead as UW missed a few 3 pointers and Cal sank their free throws.  Victory!

When you look at the stat line with no context, it's a typical impressive night Lexi:

Minutes FGs 3 pt FGs FTs Off. Rbs Def. Rbs. Tot. Rbs. Points
34 11-18 5-8 8-12 7 1 8 35

 

When you consider that she had to sit out 8 minutes in the first half with foul trouble and then played the last 7:51 of the game with a limiting ankle injury, her performance was that much more impressive.  Simply put, Cal loses this game without Lexi, and probably badly.

Cal @ Washington St.

I don't have nearly as much to say about the Washington St.game because it wasn't televised and because Cal came out and took care of business against a bad but potentially dangerous team.  In the game preview I said that I wanted to see a better defensive effort from the Bears than when WSU played in Berkeley.  The Bears gave the fans just that, holding WSU to an eFG of just 31%, forcing 24 turnovers, and controlling the boards.  True, the offensive effort was at times ragged, but the Bears did exactly what they needed to do.  They built a big lead quickly, maintained it, and kept up enough intensity to prevent any realistic comeback attempt.  I got a little nervous when the Cougs cut the deficit to 8 with four minutes left, but Cal clamped down on defense and went on a 10-0 run to finish the game off.  Well done, Bears.

Stat Chart vs Washington State, Washington


FGs 3 pts. FTs Pts Rbs Asts TOVs Mins
Alexis Gray-Lawson 17-35
6-11
14-19
54
17
3
5
71
Gennifer Brandon 2-7
-
4-5
8
12
2
6
40
Layshia Clarendon 9-24
2-4
0-1
20
12
5
7
63
DeNesha Stallworth 7-12
0-1
8-10
22
8
1
4
66
Natasha Vital 0-6
0-3
4-6
4
7
4
4
36
Eliza Pierre 2-8
1-2
-
5
5
5
6
64
Talia Caldwell 7-11
-
-
14
7
1
1
50
Rachelle Federico 1-3
1-2
-
3
0
0
1
11
Lauren Greif
2-7
2-4
1-2
7
4
1
5
24
Brenna Heater -
- - -
-
-
-
-


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Items of note:

-Brenna Heater didn't play this week, and according to Cal's official media release sustained a concussion.  There was no information on the severity or a timetable for her return.  CGB wishes you a speedy recovery, Brenna!
-Layshia Clarendon didn't have the best shooting weekend, but she's starting to show a knack for hitting shots just when Cal needs them - She helped keep Cal afloat when Lexi was off the court with foul troubles and sank a huge, off balance jumper just after Lexi sustained her ankle injury.
-Cal regressed this weekend in the turnover category.  I doubt Cal will be able to get past teams like Oregon and Arizona St. (let alone Stanford) if they give the ball away that much.
-I'm still a big Federico fan - When Cal's offense struggles, her ability to shoot well from outside can be a real difference maker.  I wouldn't be upset if she got more time.

Players of the game vs. Washington St. - DeNesha Stallworth and Talia Caldwell

Cal's bigs have done an excellent job all season long on the boards, and interior defense has been solid as well.  But their scoring had fallen off as the conference schedule went by, with Gray-Lawson and Clarendon taking much of the load.  Against Washington St. Caldwell and Stallworth got back in the scoring groove.  The duo both went 6-9 from the field and combined for 26 total points, while holding WSU's starting bigs to 6 points on 3-11 shooting.

Note: For player of the game vs. Washington, see the 600 word tribute above.  Duh.

What's Next:  Cal (8-5, 14-10) vs. Oregon St (1-11, 9-14) and Oregon (7-5, 16-8)

Throughout the Cal-Washington telecast the announcers portrayed the game as a must-win for Cal's NCAA chances.  Unless Cal knocks off Stanford or wins 3 straight in the Pac-10 tourney, it's hard for me to see the tournament taking Cal as an at-large.  But I'm guessing that the women will play the rest of the season with the attitude that they control their destiny - and they should.  Right now there's a big mess behind Stanford and UCLA - Cal, USC, Oregon and ASU are all separated by just one game and any of the three could take 3rd.  There's an argument out there that a 20 win, 3rd place team in the Pac-10 would get in.  I don't particularly buy that theory but it's something Cal can shoot for with 5 regular season games and the conference tourney left.

If you're a Cal fan and you don't have anything to do on Saturday night, I strongly suggest you find a way to watch Cal and Oregon.  Go to the game, find a computer, whatever.  Oregon plays the most entertaining style of basketball in the conference and Cal is perfectly willing to run right with them.  When Cal swept the Oregon schools on the road they played two of their most entertaining games of the year.  If the next two are half as entertaining you'll walk away happy.  I'll probably find my way down to Haas Saturday night.  Come on down and support your Bears as they make a push for 3rd in the conference!

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