Cal 76, USC 67: Bears race by Trojans in 2nd half

Afure Jemerigbe is in the zone. - Lance Iversen/USA TODAY Sports

More balanced scoring and a strong defensive effort earns Cal a key road win and all but locks up a first round bye in the Pac-12 tournament.

After falling behind 5-2 early, Cal raced back with an 8-0 run, and they would never trail again. Still, USC kept the game close through the first half, and Cal wouldn't truly assert their superiority until a 12-0 run to start the 2nd half built a double digit lead that would prove more than enough to carry the Bears to victory.

The story of the game was the continued strong play of secondary scorers and role players as Cal rounds into post-season form. Courtney Range had another confident offensive game. Justine Hartman attempted and made high percentage looks. Mikayla Lyles hit a couple 3s, like always.

But how about Afure Jemerigbe? Cal's 3rd scoring option has continued her brilliant run of games with what I consider to be her best all-around game ever as a Bear. She did quite a bit of everything all over the court. She scored 16 points on only 11 shots despite not really having her jumper going. She handled the ball well and dished out a game high (and, I would assume, career-high) seven assists.

Most of all, she played one of the best defensive games of her career. She spent most of the game chasing around Cal-killer Ariya Crook, who scored 34 points at Haas in the most painful defeat of the season. This time? A paltry 10 points on 25% shooting. During Cal's decisive run to start the 2nd half Foo came up with two monstrous blocks of attempted Crook layups, one of which led to a Brittany Boyd fast break layup that pushed the lead to 16.

It was such a confident two-way performance from a player who has deferred to other (admittedly very good) players for the majority of her career. Perhaps stepping up against Arizona State with a hobbled Boyd helped give Jemerigbe the confidence she needed. Either way, she's become a major option for a team that already has two players most teams struggle to defend.

Jemerigbe's play helped Cal stay ahead of the Trojans despite first half foul trouble for Reshanda Gray. But as soon as Gray got back onto the court in the 2nd half she took over. 16 of her 22 points came in the 2nd half, including 8 straight points before a single player on either team scored any points. Every time USC crept back to within 10 or so Gray scored again to hold the Trojans at bay with big rebounds, tough baskets and drawn fouls.

If you didn't see the game and are wondering about a relatively quiet day from Brittany Boyd, I can report that she didn't seem particularly impacted by her ankle. Boyd did seem a bit off, but she spent most of the game deferring to her teammates. And when everybody else was getting into great position and hitting shots, why change things up?

The Bears have now won six straight, with an average margin of victory of 10.5 points. That's really impressive, particularly when you consider that four of those six games have been on the road, and only one of those games (Arizona) came against a team in the bottom 3rd of the Pac-12 standings. The way this team is playing at the moment is night and day from the beginning of the season, and if they keep it up nobody will want to face them in March.

We'll have a detailed look at Cal's March chances later this week. For now, celebrate that the Bears are one UW loss (at the time of this article, the Huskies are losing to OSU by 17 at the half) from clinching a first round Pac-12 tournament bye. Celebrate an always wonderful L.A. road sweep. This is the best time of year, isn't it?

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