For 30 minutes, the Bears played Duke even. The Bears trailed by just one point after nine minutes, and the second half finished in a dead heat. But oh, those last 10 minutes of the first half. In that time Duke when on a decisive 22-7 run that essentially decided the game.
In that span Cal hit only two shots, turned the ball over 10 times, and just generally got nothing going on offense. It wasn't an issue of defense - although Duke certainly got their points, this was the weakest total output by the Blue Devils all year. But for the 2nd straight game Cal's offense had stretches of sloppy play. It finally caught up with them on the road against the #4 team in the country.
Duke won the game with an impressive all around effort in all phases of the game. Eight different players scored and five finished with 9 points or more. None of the margins were by themselves decisive, but Duke outrebounded and out shot the Bears, and they turned it over less often.
Prior to the game much of the focus was on the battle between point guards Chelsea Gray and Brittany Boyd. Both players had huge impacts on the game, but in different ways. Gray controlled the proceedings like you'd expect from an elite point guard, and almost finished with a triple double. Boyd, meanwhile, single-handedly kept Cal in the game with an Alexis Gray-Lawson-esque performance. 28 points is her new career high, and she did it in part by hitting three shots from behind the arc in addition to her usual drives and transition baskets.
The big reason Duke won? They are the first team this year to outplay Cal inside. Cal's posts combined for just 7-21 shooting and 19 points, and had a surprising amount of trouble keeping Duke off the offensive glass. Meanwhile, as I feared Cal didn't have a defender who could deal with Tricia Liston's unique skill set and the wing went off for 21 points, including a flurry of made shots in Duke's decisive last first half run.
In the long run, this game could mean a lot or nothing. From an NCAA tournament perspective, it probably helps as Cal's RPI rank actually rose from #4 to #3. Nobody is going to punish Cal for losing to such a good team so far away from home. The bigger question is if the Bears can learn from what went wrong against Duke, and apply those lessons when they face equally tough teams later this year.
I like how our team responded in the second half, I thought we played a little bit more of our brand of basketball. Thought they really locked in at halftime. With a team like Duke, you can't put yourself in that kind of hole because they are that good. We'll take a lot away from this game, and hope to be in this type of situation again both in our own conference and in our post-season."
If this team responds like I think they can, they should sweep through the rest of the non-conference season undefeated. Ultimately, the dividends (or lack thereof) from this game won't be revealed until later.