In the biggest game left in the regular season, with conference standings and March seeding on the line, the Bears delivered with one of their strongest performances of the season.
It wasn't easy. Cal fans were thrilled to see Brittany Boyd warming up and starting the game, but it became clear early on that she was in pain and didn't have the same consistent speed and mobility that we've been spoiled with. Whether they were trying to draw fouls or simply wanted to test Boyd's ability to play defense, Arizona State attacked Cal's point guard off the dribble early on, and with some success.
Luckily the Bears were befitting from the best offensive half of basketball in Afure Jemerigbe's career. Foo scored 15 first half points on a variety of drives and jumpers, taking full advantage of the attention ASU was giving to Boyd and Cal's post players. While the rest of the Bears had trouble getting traction on offense, Foo kept the game close, and largely enabled Cal to enter the halftime locker room with a narrow two point lead.
I don't know if the coaches changed up the game plan, if Boyd got some excellent halftime therapy from Cal's training staff, or if the Bears simply picked up their intensity, but the 2nd half was all Cal, and quickly. Brittany Boyd scored 19 of her 21 in the 2nd half, Reshanda Gray figured out how to deal with ASU's constant double teams to pick up her own scoring, and Jemerigbe and Gennifer Brandon kept up their contributions. With their four best players firing on all cylinders, ASU didn't stand much of a chance. An 11-0 run largely created by Boyd's relentless attacking opened the game up, and the Sun Devils never really got back in the game the rest of the way.
- Cal is a different team when Afure Jemerigbe is scoring. She's always been a decent finisher at the basket, but she never seemed to drive as much as her ability would allow. That wasn't the case at all against ASU, and if things had fallen right she could have gone for 30. As good as her game was, she missed a couple inside looks that she has the ability to make, and uncharacteristically missed four free throws. If she continues to play like this Cal will be very dangerous in March.
- If Brittany Boyd was 100%, this game probably finishes more like 74-55. I don't think her ankle impacted her offense too much, but it's really, really hard to play defense if you're not fully healthy. ASU guards managed to get around her and into the paint much more frequently than normal because of her ankle.
- While we're on the topic of Boyd: Wow. I've seen some players let injuries impact how they play. Sometimes, frankly, it's a good idea. Boyd only knows one way to play, ankle be damned. That made for nervous moments for Cal fans, and I winced every time Boyd sprinted forward to break up a pass, came down hard after a rebound, or threw her body into the paint. Pain tolerance is a crazy thing. It's almost as if her quiet first half was just because she needed 20 minutes to figure out how to re-calibrate from the injury, but in the 2nd half it was lights out.
- ASU, like many teams, attempted to double team Reshanda Gray, but ASU has the defensive personnel to do it reasonably well. Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, I think Cal has gradually figured out how to deal with teams that double down on Reshanda (Thanks, Stanford!) and it didn't really impact Cal's offense too much. Gray only scored three baskets off of entry passes, but Cal's offense still managed to score at a solid rate.
- In the post-game presser, Lindsay Gottlieb said they challenged Cal's post players to up their performance after getting outplayed in Tempe. They responded by helping Cal outrebound ASU by 11. Even more impressive was the defense. ASU's collection of forwards and centers combined to shoot 5-22 from the field.