Let's start off with the good news: Cal overcame some adversity and emerged with a relatively comfortable win over a pesky Utah squad. With 15 minutes left in the 2nd half, the game was actually in quite a bit of doubt. Utah had taken the lead, Gen Brandon was out, Talia Caldwell had four fouls, and Cal's offense was struggling. At that point, Lindsay Gottlieb went with a lineup few Cal fans anticipated seeing this year.
Gottlieb replaced Caldwell with Afure Jemerigbe, and she joined Reshanda Gray, Layshia Clarendon, Eliza Pierre and Mikayla Lyles. Yup, four guards and one post. Prior to the season, Gottlieb talked about a 3 post lineup, but she went the other way against Utah.
And it worked like a charm. With the added speed on the floor, the Bears started pressing incessantly. The result was NINE Utah turnovers over 8:30 of gametime. That opened things up on offense, and Cal went on a 23-9 run that sealed the game.
Layshia Clarendon might not have had the very best game of her Cal career, but it was certainly her most efficient. She scored 23 points on 11-15 shooting, added in 4 assists and 4 steals and zero turnovers. As always, she played 40 minutes, and it was essentially a flawless performance.
And it was Reshanda Gray who came up huge when Cal was struggling. With no other posts to team with, Reshanda didn't just hold her own inside. She dominated. She scored 13 2nd half points, the bulk of it coming during Cal's decisive run. Perhaps most importantly, she hit all 7 of her free throws, which made things significantly less stressful during crunch time.
Mikayla Lyles played an unexpected 24 minutes, but again showed off her development with more smart offense and excellent defense despite having to guard players with obvious size advantages. Her growth could pay huge dividends for this team through the 2nd half of the Pac-12 schedule.
Perhaps the biggest unsung contributor? Eliza Pierre. Brittany Boyd had a tough game and struggled with foul trouble. But EP stepped up with one of her most confident offensive games of the year. She played point throughout Cal's 2nd half run, and was an absolute terror on defense without giving anything away on offense. And she actually led Cal in rebounding in just 20 minutes, providing a key contribution when the Bears only played one post. Even better? Gennifer Brandon plays a key position when Cal presses. Without Gen, who stepped up?
So then we had the small group in and I knew that we wanted to press and while Mikayla had been playing Gennifer's spot offensively, I said, let's go silver. And Eliza said, "I can play the top." You have so much confidence in a kid like that. Gennifer has about six or seven inches on her, but Eliza is the other person who is as disruptive as Gennifer. And as soon as she said that, I was like "that's genius!" She can play the top and it was great. And I said to them in the locker room after the Colorado game, "You do not win championships without someone like Eliza Pierre.
If Cal has one advantage on Utah, it's speed and athleticism. And with players like Eliza Pierre and Layshia Clarendon sprinting around like demons, they were completely overwhelmed. I love the post-game quotes from Coach G, because it gives you this sense of synergy between the coaching staff and the players. They all understand each other, and they're doing some great things together.
The obvious bad news? Gennifer Brandon showed up in a boot and terrified us all. Here's what Gottlieb had to say during the post-game press conference:
She'll be back, it's day to day. She rolled her ankle. You saw it at the end of the Colorado game. I think that it was with about four minutes to go, but she got up and played through it. Which I think, I didn't really even know at that time, so it was aggravated a little bit, so we just want to be really cautious and hopefully she will be good in the next couple of days.
That's pretty reassuring, especially considering Gen played on it and managed a block and two rebounds during crunch time. Hopefully we can all take a deep breath. It's also worth noting that Reshanda 'tweaked' her hamstring, so that's another injury to monitor. The Bears won't be in action until next Friday, so hopefully 5 days off will give everybody time to heal up.