It's a testament to the talent on this team that the Bears didn't play 'Cal basketball' for 20 minutes and still entered halftime tied with LSU, 26-26. The Bears let LSU dictate style and tempo, and the result was a disjointed, ugly game.
And then the Bears came out for the 2nd half and ran the Tigers off the floor. 47 2nd half points! Cal picked up the defensive pressure, forced bad shots or turnovers, turned those mistakes into transition opportunities. And those transition opportunities turned into made baskets or free throws, as a slower LSU team struggled to keep up.
It's such a joy to watch this team run. Layshia Clarendon is one of the best in-rhytm shooters I've ever seen. Gen Brandon seemingly covers 5 yards with every step. And Brittany Boyd is pure lightning. We've watched teams try to slow the Bears down all year, so on the rare occasions when they can get out and do their thing, you have to sit back and enjoy the show.
It's tough to pick out one stand-out player. Clarendon bounced back from a tough, 2 point 1st half to score 18, and quietly managed six huge steals to fuel Cal's transition game. Human double-double Gen Brandon (stop me if you've heard this before) put up a huge double-double. Brittany Boyd kept Cal's offense afloat in the first half, then dictated tempo in the 2nd half, exerting control over proceedings in the way only a special point guard can do.
Clarendon in particular impressed me. ESPN talked about how hard she had to work just to get decent looks. Credit LSU's defense for denying her in the first half. From that point on she refused to let that defense stop her, and any slight opening resulted in a jumper falling through the hoop.
And of course the Bears got less obvious contributions from everybody else. Talia Caldwell played some great defense on Theresa Plaisance, who finished 5-18 from the field. Mikayla Lyles hit two shots in limited time on the court, including a huge three to stretch Cal's lead when the game was still close. Reshanda Gray was key on defense and on the boards in limited minutes.
In the end, Cal shot better, rebounded better, drew more fouls, and forced more turnovers. You do those 4 things, and you tend to win games.
And perhaps the biggest reason this win became fairly routine? The Bears hit their free throws. The final line of 26-41 (63.4) is almost exactly in line with Cal's season average, but most of the misses came during the final minute when Cal had a double digit lead and the game was over. Most of the work was done by Clarendon and Brandon - Clarendon taking advantage as the refs finally started to call fouls on LSU's hand-checks and bodying as she tried to get free.
Hey Cal fans, remember how disappointed we were when the Bears failed to hold serve to set up the long anticipated rubber match with Stanford? Well, it happened again, but this time it was Stanford who didn't hold up their end of the bargain. All things considered, I'm glad we lost to UCLA and not to LSU.
I know nothing about Georgia except that they beat Stanford, so they must be pretty OK. We're playing them with a trip to the Final Four on the line. Just say those words and smile. 31 wins, and the season is still going.