The Bears may not be a brilliant outside shooting team. But they have continually shown that if you choose to simply not guard them from outside, they are willing and able to hurt you from deep.
Cal shot 11-19 from behind the arc, with every single attempt coming from Layshia Clarendon, Afure Jemerigbe and Mikayla Lyles. With the exception of a deadly, end-of-the-shot-clock step back from Layshia, they were mostly of the wide open variety. I can't tell you if this was all part of Washington State's game plan or simply bad defense, but either way Cal punished them. Unsurprisingly, the 11 threes were a season high by a significant margin.
The most critical sequence came late in the first half, with Cal actually trailing by two points. Wazzu had been shooting lights out themselves up to that point, but over the last 90 seconds of the half Jemerigbe and Clarendon combined for three 3 pointers that killed any Wazzu momentum and gave Cal a 7 point halftime lead.
Admittedly, I'm a bit concerned about Cal's first half defense. Some of it can be explained by unusually good shooting from the Cougars, who shot 50% from the field with four made 3s. Some of it was Cal just not playing defense like they are capable of. It was all very similar to the Oregon State game last week, except this time Cal played great offense for the entire first half rather than falling behind.
But Washington State's offense regressed to 30% shooting in the 2nd half, and although Cal's torrid pace didn't last either, it was still enough to build an 18 point lead late in the game before Coach Gottlieb cleared the bench.
Layshia Clarendon was the star again, leading Cal in scoring for the 10th time in 11 games. Her 26 points was also her 3rd 20 point game in Cal's last 4 games, and her 6th in Pac-12 play. She's been unreal of late, and her efficiency as a scorer is really impressive for a player that relies on jump shots to get points. If she has a big game against Washington she will likely finish the regular season as the 2nd leading scorer in conference play. Only a future WNBA 1st pick is playing better basketball.
Brittany Boyd had another quiet game as she gradually gets over her nagging groin injury. She didn't dent the score sheet much, but she was active on the glass and didn't turn it over, and that's just fine. Even better, she only had to play 26 minutes and will hopefully be back to her usual frenetic self soon.
And best of all? Cal won on a night that saw their closest competitors in the polls and for tournament seeds lose. Duke, Maryland and Penn State all lost, and two of them even lost to unranked teams. At this point the Bears are a stone cold lock for at least a 2 seed, and the quest for a 1 is still very much alive.
But for two more days all of the focus will be on the conference championship. Just one more win and the Bears will earn a piece of it. As expected, the short-handed Huskies were completely blown away by Stanford. I have no idea how they will respond against Cal with their key players back and their tournament spot on the line. But I fully expect Cal to play their best with a season long goal finally in sight.
So far so good in the state of Washington. Would it be greedy to ask for four more wins in the Evergreen State?