"Gennifer Brandon with a game for the ages." That's what Pac-12 Network announcer Mary Murphy said of Brandon's accomplishments in #7 California's 71-63 victory over USC last Thursday night. ESPN agrees, and has just named Brandon as National Player of the Week for her incredible performance against USC, followed by her excellent game against #14 UCLA on Sunday.
Brandon's stats against USC were amazing. She scored 23 points, one short of her career high. She pulled down 26 rebounds, a new career high, and tying the University of California's record, set by Colleen Galloway in 1978. 15 of Brandon's rebounds were on the offensive boards, many of them resulting in put-back baskets. Brandon added 3 steals, a block and an assist, for good measure.
But those statistics, as impressive as they are, do not tell the whole story of how Brandon almost single-handedly carried the Bears to victory. The Bears struggled mightily with their shooting against USC, and with 1:30 left in regulation, they were trailing by 6 points. Then Gen Brandon took over. She hit two free throws to cut the lead to 4. Then, 27 seconds later, Brandon stole a USC pass and drove to the basket. She was fouled, and sank two more free throws to bring the Bears within 2.
Cal was forced to foul to try to get the ball back, and Gen Brandon fired up the Straw Hat Band and then the entire crowd through sheer force of will. Band member and CGB reader Paleodan described it this way:
When the U$C player choked on the free throws at the end of the game, Brandon was goading the band and the fans to make even more noise. She did the whole "raising arms up to get louder," but she also looked straight at the band and willed us to yell even louder at [USC's free throw shooter] Crook. It was amazing.
USC missed both free throws, and with 31 seconds left, Brandon grabbed the rebound. At the other end, Layshia Clarendon missed the jumper with 18 seconds left. But there was nothing to fear, because Gennifer Brandon was there to pull down the offensive board, and put back the tying shot with 14 seconds to go. On television, Brandon could be seen yelling, "LET'S GO BEARS!"
California Golden Blog's own norcalnick summarized Brandon's game against USC like this:
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.
In the overtime, Brandon added 5 more rebounds, 2 points, and a block. The Bears ran away with the game, outscoring USC 9-1 in overtime, for a 71-63 win.
Brandon's game on Sunday against UCLA seems almost tame by comparison: 14 rebounds, 12 points, 3 blocks. It was her third consecutive double-double, her ninth double-double of the season, and the 24th double-double of her career -- and she's only a junior. The Bears didn't need quite the same monster game from Brandon against UCLA as against USC, because the rest of the team's shooting was substantially better. But Brandon still delivered when needed.
In the UCLA game, Brittany Boyd brings the ball up the floor and passes to Reshanda Gray. When Gray's shot doesn't fall, Brandon swoops in to grab the offensive rebound and score.
In the UCLA game, Layshia Clarendon hits a three, then Afure Jemerigbe gets a steal, and Gennifer Brandon scores again.
In selecting Brandon as National Player of the Week, ESPN had this to say:
Gennifer Brandon is known among her teammates for her sense of fashion, her generous heart, her light-up-the-room smile, and her giving nature. But opponents just know her more as the woman who often makes it ridiculously hard for anybody else to get a rebound.
Working the boards has always been Brandon's forte. But the rest of her game is expanding, too, as evidenced by her being named espnW player of the week. Her No. 7-ranked Bears followed up their huge win at Stanford last Sunday with victories over USC and UCLA. . . . Brandon scored the last six points in regulation for the Bears, who were having a lot of difficulty putting the ball in the basket (31.4 percent from the field) against USC. Luckily for Cal, Brandon time and again gave them second chances.
The other nominee for the award, who was beaten out by Brandon, is a pretty good basketball player herself, one Brittany Griner of Baylor. ESPN also noted that in any other week, Brandon's Cal teammate, Layshia Clarendon, might well have won the award, after scoring 49 points in two games.
But let's give the last words to the remarkable Gennifer Brandon herself, speaking about the USC game:
"Not today," that's what I kept saying to myself because they beat us in overtime last year and we have a saying on the team that whenever we face off against someone, "Not today" and I just kept saying that over and over."