We're 65th! We're 65th! It's been over a decade since a Cal basketball team has been able to chant that lovely ditty. The last time a Cal team had the chance to end the season on a winning note in the NIT, it was 1999 in New York.
This time, it was at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley. The Cal women's basketball team was taking on Miami for the Championship. What people love about college sports is the emotional accessibility. Certainly, only a small amount of people ever get true accessibility with the teams and players. But it feels more accessible. The players are, generally, younger than you (sorry, Chris Weinke). The players are not multi-millionaire larger than life superstars. They seem just like you and me. You see them walking down the street, buying books at Ned's, or heroically pushing other students out of the way of oncoming vehicles.
When it comes to accessibility, women's basketball seems at the top of the list. Tickets are inexpensive and you can get right on the court, pretty much. The emotion seems purer. Nobody is getting a free house or anything like that. How many times do you get to be feet away from the star of the team and one of the greatest athletes in the history of the Cal team run over to her mother or what one assumes is a loved one to share the unnending joy of not only winning the WNIT, but also ending the storied career on an incredibly positive note and winning the Tournament MVP! I'm not even sure that sentence is English, but marvel at this photo instead of marveling at my rampant stupidity:
With college sports, you can feel almost part of the team itself. They say that a photo is worth 1,000 words. Well, in that case, I have something like 4 million words to share with you, each photo more wordy than the last. Join me after the jump to walk through the day that was the California Women's Basketball team winning the WNIT! GO BEARS!
Photos can often reflect much more than the sum of colored pixels. Take this one, for example:
It isn't just about winning Saturday's game. It is about winning a championship at home and getting to cut down your own net. It's about Cal teams doing that twice in a handful of weeks! When was the last time we could say that? It harkens back to the Cal men's team winning the Pac10 and the cathartic joy that was February 27, 2010. Or take this photo:
In one moment, you see Eliza Pierre, representative of Cal's youthful, but talented core, throwing the ball in air to celebrate the victory. You also see an unnamed Miami player fall to her haunches, frustrated and crushed at being so close to the top of one mountain, even if it's not the mountain. You also see the beauty of class in the background as two rival players congratulate each other on a great and hard fought competition. This isn't about the million dollar contracts, this isn't about the endorsement deals, this is just about the highs of the high, avoiding the lows of the low, and appreciating the hard work and dedication of all athletes.
I show these not to toot my own horn as I am sure there are many who got much better photos of the same moments. All I want to do is try to help people better appreciate the fun of the Cal women's basketball team. We had a good, but inconsistent team this year. That is what happens when you have so many freshmen logging so many minutes. Coach Boyle, she of the Quads Of Steel, had them peaking just at the right time, playing great basketball when it truly mattered most. No, Cal didn't get to the NCAAs and yes, it hurts that Stanford is playing for the NCAA Championship when Cal is in "just" the WNIT. However, as Coach Boyle herself stated, getting this extra playing time, getting this extra experience can only help this young team going forward. Plus, ending the season on a high note and playing our seniors off on that high note was one of the best ways to end this season. This team is going to be good in the next few seasons and I hope you, dear reader, make it out to a game or two next year.
I get ahead of myself. Before we focus on Eliza Pierre, sophmore, or Alexis Gray-Lawson, former Cal Bear, let's talk about Eliza Pierre, freshmen, and Alexis Gray-Lawson, Cal Bear. Let's start at the beginning. The WNIT:
Tickets were only $12! Tough to beat that deal. The guys behind me in line were saying Cal should be charging $25, perhaps could make some money there. The appetite for Cal women's basketball is certainly there. When I got in, Cal was warming up:
Cal went into the locker room so I went to go meet up with NorCalNick and aee07. They had saved a huge area and had the CGB sign up. We had two separate signs, a really large one and a much smaller one. The large one seemed rather obnoxious, so we decided to go with the smaller one. Apparently, some of the readers looking for the CGB sign did not see it and could not find us. I'm sorry about that. We do look forward to seeing you at the Spring Game in two weeks, though! Don't give up hope!
Apparently, I sat next to DeNesha Stallworth's family. I chatted with them a little, they seemed remarkably nice. DeNesha Stallworth is the 17 year old freshman, who was an All-WNIT Tournament Selection. She is already pretty good and is only getting better. She looks like she came from a slumber party following a Justin Bieber concert, but she led the team with 21 points. She is a great post player and helps clean up the boards.
One person who did somehow find his way to our section was this dude, who was one eighth of the Miami rooting section:
This guy, whose shirt said "POMAN!" and had a neck tattoo, was energetic all day long. He would yell "D-FENCE! D-FENCE!" over and over and over and over again. Gotta give him credit!
Then, the band came marching in! First, some of the cooler sections:
Then, the lamest section came marching in.
Man, I hate the nets so much right now! Bringing the rest of us woodwinds down what with their complicated upper register fingerings and then seeming inability to be as cool as the phonez. Play a real woodwind, losers!
The team came back out for the pre-game pep talk:
While the cheerleaders cheered them on:
Then, the National Anthem:
I wonder what was going through Lexi's head during this, her last National Anthem as a Cal Bear:
Guess who showed up to root on his friends in basketball:
This is Eddie Kleinhans, the announcer for the men's basketball team. Not entirely sure why he was doing the women's game. Perhaps the normal guy was not available. Or perhaps it is a case of MURDER!
Behind good defense and great rebounding, Cal jumped out to a 9-2 lead:
Cal's basket in the first half was the South basket and I was on the north side of the bench, so I didn't get a lot of photos, because who wants to watch Miami do well on offense (which they weren't even doing!).
Coach Boyle was in her usual crouched ready to strike position:
CalBear81 said that Cal had the advantage in the always important crouch to point ratio. The Miami coach was on her feet the entire time. Such naivete! You have to crouch to win. Crouch To Win! If you ain't crouching, you ain't trying! Unfortunately, Miami went on a bit of a run:
Fortunately for Cal, as the free T-Shirt the CDT member launched at my head said, WE'RE A TRIPLE THREAT!
However, by halftime Cal had a comfortable margin:
At halftime, there was a dance crew. It was pretty awesome. They even had these little kids, like 4 or 5, who showed more ability than I ever will. I didn't see a single overbite or sway at all! They truly are better than me.
Ok, that is a good place to stop for now. In a few hours, second half action and the post-game celebration! GO BEARS!