Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
The Cardinal prevail 62-53 in a tense, physical, defensive battle.
Maybe it's a curse or something, I don't know.
That was Layshia Clarendon's response after the game when asked about Cal's shooting. With 13:08 left in the 2nd half, Reshanda Gray sank a layup to tie the game at 42. It had been a nip-and-tuck game the entire way. And then Cal went ice cold. The Bears wouldn't hit another field goal for more than 10 minutes of game time. By then Stanford was up 10, a margin too steep to overcome with less than three minutes to play.
The frustrating part is that this was a game that was there for the taking. Cal did things to Stanford that are virtually unprecedented. 21 offensive rebounds is obscene, unbelievable. Cal outmuscled Stanford for the first time I can recall. The Bears drew more fouls and did a reasonable job of converting at the line.
Really, the story for the game is one simple stat. 2-21. Two made three pointers. Nineteen misses.
This might be a controversial opinion, but I don't think Cal is a bad jump shooting team. Coming in to this game, the Bears were hitting about 31% of their three pointers, which is almost completely average in the national rankings. Layshia Clarendon has always been a good shooter, and she's gotten better every year. Afure Jemerigbe is usually pretty reliable. Mikayla Lyles is probably the best pure shooter on the team. Even Brittany Boyd has improved her shot. If Cal shoots 21 three pointers, you would generally assume that the Bears would make 6 or 7. And if they had, this game would have stayed close the entire way. Even sinking a few might have forced Stanford to play defense more honestly. Cal has punished teams for packing the paint more than once - after all, in years past it's been the obvious strategy, yet the Bears have still managed to win plenty of games.
But when the Bears most needed it, their shooting touch completely abandoned them. And rather than try to find any other kind of offense, they kept hoisting up threes.
In a strange way, the fashion in which Cal lost was encouraging. My fear was that Stanford would dominate this game the way they always seem to do, and that we'd all walk away feeling demoralized, with no confidence in Cal's ability to beat Stanford again this year. Thinking of this game as a missed opportunity to slay the beast doesn't feel much better, but it's a hell of a lot better than thinking that there's no way Cal can beat Stanford regardless of circumstances.
Cal isn't cursed, but it sure does feel like it sometimes - most of all on one of the more absurd plays I've ever seen. With just 2 seconds left on the shot clock, Stanford threw up a wild in bounds pass that bounced off the backboard and nestled in the arms of Chiney Ogwumike, who tossed the ball up into the basket and drew a foul. That play increased Stanford's lead to 8 with five minutes left, and summed up the entire game.
Ogwumike (I guess I no longer need to refer to them by their first name now that there's only one) dominated offensively and caused Cal all kinds of problem on defense. You're not going to stop her from scoring points, but it is possible to make her take a bunch of shots to get there. Cal couldn't do that as she went 11-16 from the field.
Even still, I felt like Cal's defensive effort both as a whole and against Ogwumike was above average - only twice has Stanford scored fewer points/possession this year. On a different night, it would have been enough to earn the monumental win.
There will be another chance for that monumental win on Sunday. I'm hardly an expert, but I can only help but feel that there aren't a ton of coaching adjustments to be made between now and then. Cal's defense is fine. Their offense tried to toke what Stanford gave them. Next time out, we just have to be sure and take it. There's a lot riding on this next game, and this team showed that they absolutely have the ability to win.