Two years ago, Ariya Crook averaged just 5.2 points/game. She recorded double figures in just three games. One was a 21 point career high explosion to lead USC to an overtime victory at Haas Pavilion.
Last year, Ariya Crook averaged 13.4 points/game. She again recorded 21 points at Haas Pavilion, and only one of the greatest single game efforts in Cal history from Gennifer Brandon (25 points, 26 rebounds) saved Cal in an overtime win.
This year, Ariya Crook is averaging 15 points/game. She just recorded a career high 34 points (previous high: 25) to lead USC to a win in Haas Pavilion. And I don't understand.
If there's any team in the conference that understands what Ariya Crook can do, it's Cal. The Bears still couldn't stop her. Even when Cassie Harberts wasn't on the floor, when Crook was the only viable scoring threat on the floor, even then she got good looks off. Cal's inability to stop Crook cost them the game, 2nd place in the conference, and any realistic chance at the conference crown. Ariya Crook is a good player. Cal, somehow, turns her into a dominant player.
Maybe the reason this loss was so frustrating is because the Bears looked so good for the first 15 minutes of the game. Cal came out with seemingly a perfect game plan and the perfect mindset. On defense they denied Cassie Harberts the ball brilliantly, and on offense they attacked the paint with gusto. Brittany Boyd was dominant, Gennifer Brandon looked like her old self, Afure Jemerigbe had one of her best games of the year . . . all of Cal's key players seemed to be firing on all cylinders. It looked like the Bears were poised to run away with it, to finally put the pieces together after looking so disjointed for much of the year.
And it all fell apart. USC just somehow managed to hang around, and then they started hitting threes, and Cal was sending them to the line a little too much, and then Reshanda got in foul trouble, and all of a sudden it was a tie game, and back and forth affair, when it seemed like the Bears should have been leading by double digits.
With the game tied and five minutes left, Cal still perhaps should have won. But Cal's last 8 possessions before starting the fouling game included two turnovers and six missed jumpers. Four of those six jumpers were 3s. The Bears didn't play their own game, and they lost a winnable game against a team that they are more talented than, at home.
This one hurts, and the games are only going to get tougher over the next few weeks.