For 35 minutes the Bears played down to Utah. And sure enough, when push came to shove, Cal and Brittany Boyd took over to make a tough game look much better on the final scoreboard.
With 5:15 left Utah hit a bucket to cut Cal's lead to three points. The Bears promptly went on an 11-3 run, fueled mostly by 7 points and an assist from Brittany Boyd. And thus a dangerous situation was immediately defused. Utah tried to play the fouling game, but the Bears hit 7-10 from the line to maintain their advantage
Boyd was involved in almost everything positive for Cal. She finished with 24 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and only 2 turnovers. She set the tone early in Cal's press and she sealed the game late with her own personal scoring run. When it wasn't Boyd it was probably Reshanda Gray, who fought through 2nd half foul trouble to finish with 15 points and 7 rebounds.
Defensively, it was a battle between Cal an Michelle Plouffe. On one hand, Utah's star finished with 19 points, 14 rebounds and 4 assists. On the other hand, she shot just 25% from the field and had 6 turnovers. I guess we'll call it a wash. Utah had three other starters that reached double digit scoring, but they didn't get a single point from their bench in very limited minutes. With all five starters logging at least 33 minutes each it wouldn't surprise me if fatigue played a role in Cal's late-game surge.
The biggest team factor in Cal's win was probably the ability to force turnovers. For all of their problems with depth and injuries, the Utes are a pretty good ball-handling team and they don't have many unforced turnovers. Cal pressed trapped, reached, jostled, and otherwise harassed Utah ball-handlers for 40 minutes. It resulted in 10 Cal steals and more opportunities to run in transition than Utah would have liked to allow.
Cal's 2nd road win of the season marks just the halfway point of a difficult four game road swing that will take them to the desert next. While Utah and Arizona are probably the two weakest teams in the conference, Colorado and next Friday's opponent, Arizona State, are the two toughest road games on Cal's Pac-12 schedule that don't involve Maples Pavilion.
That the Bears are still undefeated in conference play despite limited minutes from Gen Brandon is a great sign. Cal's senior forward logged 20 minutes, and while her shooting is still rusty she looked just as athletic and active as ever, recording 5 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks. Her defense looked excellent and I'd expect her to get more and more minutes.
The middle portion of Cal's conference schedule is certainly the toughest, but the Bears are as ready as they could expect to be. Expect plenty more close, stressful games over the next few weeks. Would you have it any other way?