An important point to start off with: At no point during this game was I worried that the Bears would actually lose. When Arizona cut it to 4 late in the first half, when Brittany Boyd picked up her 3rd foul when Layshia Clarendon was still in the locker room receiving treatment for what turned out to be a hip pointer, when Arizona cut it to 4 again with 26 seconds left - the Bears always felt in control of the outcome, even if they weren't very much in control of Arizona's ability to put up points.
I felt that way because the Bears scored early and they scored often, and they maintained a 10 point lead throughout the game because of that offense. If Cal was an excellent free throw shooting team they probably would have broken 100. Multiple times they seemed poised to completely run away with the game. All it would take would be a little bit of defense, a few missed shots in a row, and the Bears would be off to a comfortable 20 point win.
Except that never happened. It almost did, when Arizona went about 3 minutes without scoring midway through the 2nd half. Cal's lead expanded to 16 points, and the game seemed over. But Arizona rediscovered their offense, forced a couple turnovers, sent Cal to the line over and over again, and very nearly found a way to fight their way back into a game that Cal seemed to have well in hand.
Quite simply, it was Cal's weakest defensive effort of the season. Arizona became the 2nd team to average more than a point per possession against Cal (Kansas was the other), which is pretty surprising considering how Arizona has generally struggled to score against most other Pac-12 teams.
Certainly, some of Arizona's success can be chalked up to their own above average performance. Davellyn Whyte is one of those players that can occasionally go off, and she did that against Cal to the tune of 26 points and 8 assists. Kama Griffitts, a 34% three point shooter on the season, hit 5-11 from behind the arc.
But Cal just seemed off their game defensively. Arizona's pick and roll seemed to cause the Bears consistent trouble, Arizona was able to catch Cal napping in transition after made baskets, and shooters found space for threes frequently. The Bears just didn't have the same defensive intensity that they brought earlier in the season when they were playing a ranked team every other game.
I have two pieces of good news. First, I'm not really concerned about the Bears failing to bring the necessary intensity next weekend, or really for the rest of the year. To be fair, the Bears were a bit beat up. Reshanda Gray returned but only played 11 minutes, and Layshia Clarendon missed 5 minutes when she hurt her hip, then played through the injury the rest of the way (though you wouldn't say, based on her offensive performance, that the injury bothered her at all.)
Secondly, Arizona plays offense unlike any other team in the conference, and I wouldn't really expect many other teams to do too much of the stuff that Arizona does that seemed to bother Cal. At least, I hope not. Frankly, I expected that the Bears would relish the opportunity to chase down Arizona on both ends, and although the Bears certainly got their hands into passing lanes, Wildcats managed to elude defenders just as often.
If I thought that this game represented Cal's true defensive talent, I'd be very concerned. But as of right now it's an obvious outlier after a series of much stronger efforts. If you're the optimistic type, you might even argue that giving up 86 points to Arizona might be the kick in the pants that Cal needs to sharpen their focus before the looming road trip to L.A.
But enough about the defense - how about that offense? Five Bears in double figures, three Bears with 20 or more, 21 second chance points . . . it was a smorgasbord of points. Gennifer Brandon and Talia Caldwell were both spectacular, and Arizona simply didn't have anybody who could content with them. Their starting forwards stand at just 6'0'' and 6'1'', and combined to play 66 minutes. The combined for just 4 rebounds. Brandon and Caldwell were vacuums.
Talia was her usual ultra-efficient self, and complimented that with a successful day from the line. Gen was her usual spectacular self, twice jumping to catch an entry pass and laying the ball up and in before landing, which I guess is the WBB equivalent of an alley oop.
Like I mentioned above, Cal would have broken 100 with a good day from the line, but it was, unfortunately, a typical day from the line that helped keep Arizona close. This is perhaps the 3rd or 4th time during conference play where Cal has won by about 5 points, but could have won by double digits if they hit their free throws. I feel like it needs to be mentioned, even though my stance since day 1 has been that it is what it is.
L.A.'s up next, and the Bears haven't swept the SoCal road trip since the 2007-08 season. For that matter, they haven't won a game in L.A. since 2009. It might end up being the weekend that defines the regular season. They'll have to play better than they did against Arizona, but I have few doubts that they will.