For the first 30 minutes of the game, Cal looked poised at various points to take over. But Washington St. played stubbornly consistent defense and hit enough shots to keep it close. Then about midway through the 2nd half Jazmine Perkins decided she wanted to kill the Bears in Berkeley for the second year in a row and suddenly became unguardable. WSU went on a run and all of a sudden the game was tied at 44. Who would be our hero?
Layshia Clarendon, of course. I think that Layshia hasn't quite been getting the attention she deserves this year, for a number of reasons. For one, Cal's collection of bigs is so impressive that they get a ton of focus. For another, Brittany Boyd's conspicuously flashy play demands attention. And Layshia started the season slowly by the standards she set for herself as a freshman and sophomore. That's not especially surprising since she had to adapt to a new role within the offense.
But during conference play only Gen Brandon has been more important to Cal's success. And today, without Layshia's performance down the stretch, Washington St. probably wins this game by 7 or 8 points. She scored 8 of Cal's last 16 points and beautifully assisted on another basket. When Cal's offense looked disorganized, she was the player that demanded the ball and broke the defense down by herself, and turned out to be the difference at the end.
Of course, other Bears deserve plenty of credit for the win. Gennifer Brandon didn't play her best game but still finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds and made every play on the biggest possession of the game. With the game tied with 1:40 left, Brittany Boyd missed a free throw. Gen got the offensive rebound, missed a jumper, got her own rebound, made the put-back, got fouled, and sank the free throw.
Brittany Boyd played with a reckless energy that I'm having trouble comparing to anybody else I've ever seen play. As a recruit she was noted for her defense, and after some time to adjust to the next level I think we're starting to see that part of her game more and more. She finished with four steals, and they were all the 'I-just-picked-your-pocket' type of steals, and all of them led to Boyd careening down the court for a basket or a foul (or both). She's so enthusiastic that she picked up a technical foul after one particularly spectacular basket, because Pac-12 refs are no fun.
And most of all it was defense that won the game for Cal. With the offense struggling with turnovers for the first time since December, Cal held WSU to 35% from the field, and the Cougars only really got going when they drew fouls every time down the court. I thought Clarendon and Caldwell were particularly solid - the junior stalwarts always seem to be in the right place.
The win runs Cal's winning streak to six games, but it will be a major challenge to make it seven. The Bears are heading to Palo Alto to take on #4 Stanford next Saturday, and if you want to watch it you'd better get your tickets now. The game isn't on TV and you'll have to pay to watch the Stanford webcast. We'll have plenty of preview material later in the week. Go Bears!