I don't know what it is about USC, but it's never easy for the Cal women to beat them. By all rights, the Bears should have lost to USC. Their defense wasn't as intense as it was against Stanford. The Bears struggled to knock down shots from the field and from the line. USC had an unusual amount of success on the offensive glass.
But Cal had one thing that USC didn't have: Gennifer Brandon. Her performance rescued Cal in a 71, 63, come-from-behind overtime victory.
Brandon is the best rebounder in Cal history, and it's not even close. I refer to her rebounding stats constantly in part because they always blow me away. If she played 40 minutes a game she would average 16 rebounds a game. When she is on the floor she rebounds 24% of the missed shots. For every 4 shots that miss, she will grab the ball once. She's probably the best rebounder in the country.
Today, she pulled down 26 rebounds, tying a school record. The Bears needed every single one of those rebounds, particularly the final rebound in regulation, in which Gen corralled Layshia Clarendon's missed jumper for the put-back to tie the game. That basket was the final shot to erase a 6 point deficit with just 1:42 left in the game. In that last 1:42, Gen pulled down 3 rebounds, stole a pass, sank four free throws and of course hit the tying basket. It wasn't ALL Gen Brandon, but it's as close as you can come in a game with 5 players on the court.
And I didn't think it was going to happen, because USC got one of those goofy plays that USC always gets against Cal. The Bears had played 28 seconds of great defense, and with 2 seconds left on the shot clock they even knocked the ball loose . . . and that ball squirted right to Ariya Crook, who nailed a corner three to give USC a 5 point lead with 2:44 to play. It was a totally deflating basket. But the Bears overcame.
Cal had to overcome in part because they again couldn't make shots, from pretty much anywhere on the floor. Layups, threes, free throws, they all missed with similar frequency. Brittany Boyd had a great game in terms of blowing by defenders, but a miserable game in terms of converting those into baskets. Layshia Clarendon had a great game from inside the arc, but a miserable game from behind it. And EVERYBODY missed free throws.
But the Bears got hot at the right time by finishing the game on a 15-1 run that spanned the final 6:45 of the game. Or perhaps USC just ran out of gas - the Trojans only played seven players, and four of their starters played 40 minutes or more.
In one sense, this game is a reminder that the Bears have weaknesses - jump shooting and free throws, obviously enough. But this game is also a reminder of how Cal has improved. When the Bears had an awful shooting game last year, they were in trouble. When the Bears have an awful shooting game this year, they can survive. Why? Better defense and fewer turnovers. Oh, and insane rebounding, but they had that last year already.
A win is always a win, no matter the circumstances. But against a USC team that has given the Bears absolute fits of late? The truism because even more true. The Bears will have to play much better to beat UCLA on Sunday, but this team certainly seems to find a way to rise (or fall?) to the level of their opponent, don't they?