The #9 California Women's Basketball team faced their first test of the season against the outstanding #2 Duke Blue Devils at Haas Pavilion last Sunday. While a win would have been great, the 70-58 loss was a good learning experience for the Bears, who lost three key players from last year's Final Four team, and had the playing time of another key player, Gennifer Brandon, severely limited by her on-going rehab from surgery she underwent in August. Cal had three new starters on Sunday, and three of their freshmen played substantial minutes. Meanwhile, Duke returned all five starters from last season, four seniors and a junior. As Coach Gottlieb said after the game, this game should pay big dividends for the Bears as the season goes forward.
And the game was a whole lot of fun for Cal fans. The announced crowd of 10,771, was the biggest in Cal Women's Basketball history and the largest crowd ever to watch women's basketball in the home arena of any Pac-12 team. The enthusiastic crowd provided an incredible environment, showing just how far Lindsay Gottlieb has brought women's basketball in Berkeley in just two seasons.
We got there when the doors opened an hour and a half before tip-off, to get the best seats on the Bench, at half court:
The pre-game stretching regime reflected differences between the teams, with Duke's regimented routine contrasting with the more free-spirited Bears:
When we arrived the new Pac-12 Championship and Final Four Banners were still covered, awaiting their grand unveiling:
Just before tip-off, the Bears unveiled the new Banners. The "ceremony" wasn't very ceremonial, but it's probably impossible to do much else prior to a game, when the players and coaches need to be focused on their final preparations and not be distracted by a ceremony. Here is the unveiling:
The Straw Hat Band made its traditional grand entrance:
The Cal starting line up was introduced:
And then it was time for the tip off. The game started well for the Bears, with freshman Mercedes Jefflo scoring the first basket of the game:
Note that the Bears debuted their new gray uniforms.
The foul situation put the Bears in trouble right from the start. With the NCAA's new foul rules, the flow of the game was seriously disrupted. There were 17 fouls called in the first 12 minutes. Cal got the worst of it because three critical players got into foul trouble in the first 5 minutes: Brittany Boyd (2 fouls), Reshanda Gray (2 fouls), and Mercedes Jefflo (3 fouls). A very unhappy Lindsay Gottlieb gave the officials a piece of her mind several times:
But ultimately, it was turnovers and missed shots that cost the Bears the game. Here is a sample:
The fouls calls evened up a bit as the game went on, and the Bears were never out of it until the very end.
The difference was clearly the experience of the five Duke starters who have been playing together for four years, versus the three new starters and four freshmen on the Bears. But there was a lot to be happy about, as you will have seen if you were at the game or watched it on television. The highlights available on the Cal Athletics website give an indication of this. Cal fans should be looking forward to another very exciting season of women's basketball.