Duke was just a little bit better in every phase of the game. Cal couldn't get their usual foothold on the glass, and Duke ended up out-rebounding Cal, 46 to 39. Shooting woes, oddly mostly on inside shots, plagued Cal and prevented a potential comeback. And ultimately, turnovers went Duke's way as well. Although Cal forced their fair share, the Blue Devils did a great job of getting into passing lanes, setting up fast break opportunities and disrupting Cal's offense. The cross court passes that usually succeed against lesser teams were frequently batted away against a faster team with better defensive instincts.
Cal struggled to deal with Duke's match-up zone, and the sense for the majority of the game was that things were just a little bit out of sync offensively. Entry passes were tougher than usual, and Duke's efforts to front Reshanda Gray limited her touches. Players were rushing to get shots up when they got inside, and as a result more than a few that should have gone in didn't. Most of all, Cal struggled for the few minutes when their floor general Brittany Boyd wasn't on the court.
Late in the game, I tweeted that we were seeing a great team play a team that needs time to become great. You could see flashes of that eventual greatness: Afure Jemerigbe has carried over her late-season assertiveness from last year and looks ready to shoulder more responsibility on offense. Mercedes Jefflo looked very poised offensively in limited minutes.
Again, perhaps the brightest rookie was Courtney Range. She struggled with her shooting, but pulled down 10 rebounds and consistently got herself in positions that gave Duke's defense trouble. She didn't have any problem banging down low against some really talented post players, and when she did, she was able to create match-up problems with her speed and passing ability
Gennifer Brandon again looked good in limited minutes. Unfortunately, limited minutes meant just nine. Against one of the few teams big and tough enough to match the Bears on the glass, Cal needed last year's 30-minutes-a-game Gen Brandon. They'll have her back eventually, but her absence was glaring against the Blue Devils.
But ultimately, it was Chelsea Gray, playing in front of friends and family, who showed why she's considered one of the best point guards in the country. With Cal's defense doing a good job on Elizabeth Williams and Haley Peters inside, Gray called her own number at the right times and finished with 22 points and 5 assists on just 12 shots.
Watching both her play on the court and her demeanor post-game, I got the sense that Brittany Boyd relished the opportunity to go up against a player of Gray's caliber. Duke's Joanne McCallie talked post-game about making sure that she didn't go off like she did last year, when Boyd scored 28 in a losing effort. I wonder how much early foul trouble prevented Boyd from getting into the flow of the game and playing with her usual aggressiveness. How Cal's players react to the various new rules and points of emphasis will be a story to follow all year long.
Lindsay Gottlieb wasn't interested in dwelling on a loss. Instead she wanted to focus on the importance of measuring her team against a Final Four contender in Duke, and the value of having a big time college basketball atmosphere at Haas Pavilion. The announced attendance was 10,771, and although I'm not 100% sure if the announced attendance matched the number of filled seats, I am 100% sure that the atmosphere was brilliant and that the crowd was loud and engaged. For the first time I can recall, there were students in the crowd that weren't with the band or Rally-Comm, and it only added to the sense of occasion.
As for us fans, well, it's best to focus on the positives as well. Our Bears fought hard, and for the most part played with a really good team. None of Cal's freshmen looked intimidated or in over their heads. Gennifer Brandon is back and on her way to back to her position in the starting lineup. And Cal received a verbal commitment from a four star post player for the class of 2015! You can't keep these Golden Bears down for long.