It's weird to get used to winning games this way. Basic basketball analysis says that letting the other team shoot an eFG% 17% higher than you is a surefire way to lose. Lose by a lot, even.
But the Cal women have been winning games like these for three years now, against all logic.
How do you beat a team that shoots much, much better than you? By dominating the glass, forcing turnovers, and getting to the line. Cal did all three of those things much better than Fordham did, and as a result they will be playing basketball on Monday night at 6:00 pm.
That doesn't mean it was easy. Far from it. The Bears had to battle back from a 7 point deficit in the 1st half, a 3 point deficit with 90 seconds to play, and a 1 point deficit with 25 seconds left. It took big free throws from Afure Jemerigbe, a huge runner from Brittany Boyd, and spectacular one-on-one defense from Reshanda Gray before the Bears finally advanced.
Mostly, it took a ton of Brittany Boyd. Cal's biggest star has typically brought her best to the tournament, and her first game was no different. 22 points, 10 assists (breaking her own single game NCAA Cal record), 6 rebounds, 3 steals. As is often the case, roughly 2/3rds of Cal's points came from a BB bucket or pass. She is the alpha and the omega, and she won the matchup of big time point guards with Erin Rooney.
Rooney certainly had her moments, but she had to take a ton of shots to get her points and had as many turnovers as assists in large part because Cal's perimeter defenders played her very tough. Fellow guard Abigail Corning struggled even more with Cal's guard defense and foul trouble and was a virtual non-factor.
Unexpectedly, it was Fordham's forwards that kept the game close. Emily Tapio and Samantha Clark, two players that average less the double digits, combined for 30 points. Credit to Fordham - Cal's defensive game plan was to make life tough for Rooney and Corning, and I think they succeeded. That meant that other players would have room to operate, and they took advantage.
The pressure that Cal put on Fordham's guards caused a few more turnovers than I expected, and that ended up being a critical factor against a team that hit plenty of shots when they managed to get them off. Ultimately, against a team that can really shoot the ball, and had a better night than average, I think the defense was adequate, and immense late in the game.
And so the question became: Could Cal hit enough shots to take advantage of the other things they were doing well? Yes, but barely, and it took Boyd's 16 second half points to do it. Credit to Cal's bench for some solid contributions, credit to Afure Jemergibe for keeping the Bears close in the 1st half when nobody else was hitting, and credit to Reshanda Gray for working hard all night long against constant double teams. Cal's leading scorer on the season struggled to get good looks, but her work rate was a big part in getting most of Fordham's starting lineup into foul trouble, and that paid dividends late.
It wasn't pretty for long stretches, but it typically isn't with this team. It was a classic, prototype win for this team, and I loved it.
Cal will presumably face Baylor at 6:00 PT Monday in what very well might be the 2nd toughest game of the season so far. It's a tall, tall task, but a task that this team will no doubt embrace.