Cal 57, Colorado 55: Bears steal one in Boulder

Lance Iversen/USA TODAY Sports

Seemingly dead in the water, Cal surges back for a stunning road win to maintain a perfect conference record.

For thirty-six minutes, it was very difficult to find a reason to think that Cal would beat Colorado. Nothing went right. Reshanda Gray was saddled with foul trouble. Nobody could throw a decent entry pass. Everybody kept settling for iffy jumpers. Nobody could sink a free throw. Colorado wasn't playing brilliant basketball, but they were playing enough to beat Cal. Sure enough, they carried a 10 point lead into the final minutes of the game. To that point, Cal had made just 18 of 50 field goals and 6 of 15 from the line. I basically thought the game was over.

In the last minute of the game Cal went 5 of 8 from the field, hit 4 of 5 from the line, forced three turnovers, didn't allow a single Colorado field goal, and went on a 14-2 run to win the game.

That sentence makes it sound simpler than it was. It took an 11-0 run to improbably take the lead, but a defensive rotation error led to a foul, and Arielle Roberson hit both free throws to give Colorado a lead with 25 seconds left. The foul was committed by Brittany Boyd, and it was her fifth. The Bears were going to have to score in 25 seconds without their floor general when their offense had been mediocre at best throughout.

No matter. While everybody watching expected the ball to go to Reshanda Gray, the coaches called on their senior guard instead. Afure Jemerigbe calmly drove to her right near the baseline and banked in a beauty to give Cal the lead with six seconds left. A Courtney Range steal on Colorado's ensuing in bound play sealed it. And: exhale.

The game ending on a Cal steal was apropos. The Bears were only in the game in large part because, facing a 10 point halftime deficit, Coach Gottlieb decided to put caution to the wind and press for the majority of the 2nd half in an effort to make a comeback. That's probably not something that Colorado is used to facing at home when their opponents are usually sucking wind, and it worked like a charm. Cal immediately went on a 10-2 run to trim the halftime deficit. Unfortunately, Cal couldn't press forever, and the Buffs built their lead back up to 10 as Cal continued to suffer from foul trouble (in part thanks to one of the lamer charge calls you'll ever see against Reshanda Gray).

The press came back in the waning moments and was decisive again, and it's a weapon that will come in very handy throughout the rest of the season.

So what can you say about this game? Reshanda Gray was probably the only Cal player to have an above-average game offensively, but she was only able to play 22 minutes. The only reason the Bears won this game is because they are playing perhaps the best defense they have ever played under Lindsay Gottlieb. Cal didn't really have anybody who could defend Arielle Roberson (21 points on 11 shots) but otherwise nobody from Colorado got going. Cal's perimeter defenders absolutely smothered Brittany Wilson and Jasmine Sborov into more combined turnovers (11) than points (9).

I can't overstate how important this win is for the Bears. For one thing, this is Cal's only game against Colorado in the regular season, so it might come in very handy for tie-breaker purposes. For another, it's a road win over an RPI top 25 team. Thirdly, this game begins a tough four game road trip, and it would have been tough to begin it with a loss. And most of all, it's a great sign that the Bears won probably their 4th toughest conference game on the schedule, no matter how ugly it was.

They did it despite just nine minutes from Gennifer Brandon, and despite an ankle injury that clearly limited Hind Ben Abdelkader. They did it despite foul trouble for their two best players.

I just wrote an article analyzing how this team wins close games, but I don't think I really fully understand. Probably, only they do. But damned if they don't do it, and damned if it isn't thrilling stuff to watch.

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