When you face two teams below you in the conference standings at home you're expected to win, and that's just what the Cal women accomplished by completing the sweep. True, neither games were dominating performances and both games were tense towards the end. But Cal is starting to show something I wouldn't necessarily expect from a team that starts four freshmen: consistency. While individual performances have been up and down, Cal's results in conference have not been. The Bears have played 12 games against the teams below them in the standings and their record in those games is 10-2, with two losses to USC and Arizona St. on buzzer beaters. Since their shock loss to San Jose St., Cal has not lost to a single team below their talent level, something I wasn't expecting at the end of the nonconference schedule.
And for a nice change of pace, I was able to watch both games this weekend. I'll talk about it more below, but the athletic department and the women's team does a great job of making home games a memorable experience and are doing their best to attract fans. Cal only has one more home game left this year. When Stanford invades Berkeley, I hope anybody who's watched the team over the last 5 years can find a way to get to Haas for the game. I can promise you that the atmosphere will be exciting, and that everybody involved will put on a great production. And more importantly, it will be your last chance to watch Alexis Gray-Lawson play at Haas Pavilion before she takes her considerable skills to the next level. If you've watched her help revive Cal basketball, you owe it to yourself to see her before she's gone, and you owe her one last game of cheers and applause in appreciation for everything she's given the program.
Cal vs. Oregon St.
Did Cal play their best against the 1-13 Beavers? Not especially. The Bears allowed OSU to shoot an effective field goal percentage of 50% on the game and had trouble all day stopping guards Eisha Sheppard and Talisa Rhea. Oregon St. did a good job running a series of screens and curl plays for their guards that led to midrange jumpers and opportunities for drives. Coach Boyle described the defensive effort:
"Typically I think we are pretty good but tonight we had some break downs, although I think LaVonda does a good job of running quicker hitters to the hot hand, she does a really good job with that and their strong, Talisa is strong. We were trying to deny her (Talisa) and Palmer as much as we could to make other people score for them, but they still got their looks.
Fortunately, the defense improved enough in the 2nd half for the Bears to stretch a two point halftime lead into a 10 point lead with about 8 minutes to play. OSU managed to close the deficit to 2 after a 3 point play from Sheppard with a minute to play, but Cal made just enough free throws to hold off the Beavers.
Cal vs. Oregon
Before I get to the game, I want to complain about the start time for this game. 8:00 PM on a Saturday is far too late a start unless the game gets televised. This game was not on the airwaves, so all the 8 o'clock start time did was depress attendance of families, the biggest women's fanbase. Typically Saturday games are in the mid-afternoon and the stadium is full of families with painted signs, balloons, face paint and lots of enthusiasm. Starting the game so late severely curtailed that.
Aee07 and I arrived at 7:30 ready to try and follow the fastest team in the West, and we were not disappointed. Two weeks ago I was forced to describe how Cal was held to just 8 points in the first half against UCLA. Against the Ducks Cal reached 8 points after 1:50 of gametime. Cal scored on their first 8 possessions and quickly had a 17-9 lead. Oregon couldn't defend Cal in transition or in the half court and it looked like a rout was in the making. But Cal had trouble stopping Oregon's 3 point shooting and the Ducks quickly sank 4 of them to tie the game at 17.
Tight perimeter defense: Important but difficult
That established a pattern, as the Ducks and Bears exchanged runs for most of the game. Cal forged leads of 8, 11 and 10 points at different junctures of the 1st half, but Oregon responded each time with runs of their own fueled by transition baskets and 3 point shooting (6-12 from deep in the 1st half). Dynamic play from Layshia Clarendon and DeNesha Stallworth created a 44-37 Cal lead at the break.
But after the halftime break the game changed, mostly because Oregon made the decision to go to a full court press. This did a few things. First, it significantly slowed down Cal's offense by preventing most transition scoring and creating more turnovers. Second, it caused the game to become much more physical. The refs overreacted to this and started calling fouls left and right, and a fast-paced entertaining game got bogged down in foul shots and clock stoppages. In many ways Cal benefited from the game being called tighter because it put Cal in the free throw bonus much quicker and forced Oregon to stop pressing for fear of sending Cal to the line on every possession. And when you win by just 6 points, taking 12 more FTs and making 11 more becomes perhaps the key statistic of the game.
Key to the game? How about shooting 24-32 (75%) from the line?
But for a time it looked like Oregon's press would win the Ducks the game. The Ducks went on a 10-0 run to turn a 7 point Cal lead into a 3 point deficit, and Oregon had all the momentum. Cal's offense, so successful in the 1st half, stagnated as the Bears stopped attacking and settled for 3 pointers. Lexi in particular couldn't find her rhythm from distance and missed her first eight 3 pointers, many of them badly. To make matters worse, Layshia Clarendon was a victim of the tightly called game, fouling out with 5:03 left in the game after a stellar performance. Cal was on the ropes.
Cal couldn't make a 3 to save their life. Or could they?
And then, after exchanging some free throws, Lexi saved the day again by finally hitting a corner three to give the Bears a 3 point lead with 2:38 to play. Cal's defense would clamp down on the Ducks and a number of timely rebounds would keep the ball in Cal's possession. A huge offensive rebound from Natasha Vital led to a quick DeNesha Stallworth bucket and free throw shooting down the stretch would seal the hard fought victory!
You tell the story!
But wait, there's more! I mentioned above that team does a great job putting out an entertaining product. The effort includes tiny things like giving each player a t-shirt to throw to the crowd during pre-game introductions (Big props to Rachelle Federico for walking hers over to the children with disabilities basketball team that played for the crowd at halftime). It includes a variety of charitable fund-raising that changes from game to game (buying shoes for needy children, AIDS research, or Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia research). And it includes nearly the entire team coming back out onto the floor for post game autograph signing and mingling. As far as I know the team did this after the Arizona St. and UCLA games, which is admirable because those were both tough, painful losses. I'm sure they were in a better mood this time around.
I must say, it felt a little weird being perhaps the only adult on the court without a child. Hopefully my attendance wasn't too creepy for the team. I was impressed by how gracious they all were - taking photos, signing whatever random things people had, and constantly thanking us for our attendance. And the result of my fandom?
Dang! Only 3 short of a complete collection!
Not only did I collect 9 of 12 player signatures - I also did some crack reporting! When we reached Brenna Heater's table I asked her how her concussion was and she said she hoped be back next week. Just remember: You heard it on CGB first! The athletic department set up one table on each corner of the court and we waited in line at each one. After going through 3 of the tables we got in line for the last as Alexis Gray-Lawson emerged from the locker room...and sat down at the table we were in line for! SCORE! The result?
Note: This picture was altered not to protect the identity of one NorcalNick, but to protect the reputation of
California women's basketball from any and all association with Californiagoldenblogs.com.
And also to protect the innocent from my ugly mug!
Player of the Game vs. Oregon St.: DeNesha Stallworth
How does this sound for efficient scoring: 19 points on 9-11 shooting. Take away one odd 3 point attempt and DeNesha finished the game shooting 90% from two point range. When she got the ball with position down low, the ball went through the rim. For good measure DeNesha chipped in 6 rebounds and two blocks and Oregon St. never found an answer for her scoring. This weekend was a bit of a resurgence for DeNesha as she collected 38 points on nearly 70% shooting on the weekend. Cal needed somebody to take some of the offensive burden off of Lexi and DeNesha stepped up big time.
Player of the Game vs. Oregon: Layshia Clarendon
Layshia impressed against Oregon not just because of her output (17 points and 4 assists in only 25 minutes on the floor) but also because of the way she collected her points. Her performance in the 1st half was exciting and dynamic - strong drives resulting in open layups, swished 3 pointers and intelligent, decisive passing. The only shame was that foul trouble denied her the chance to showcase her skills over 30 or 35 minutes.
Layshia calmly nails a corner three during her blistering start against Oregon
What's Next: Cal @ Arizona, Cal @ Arizona St.
Since their last-second comeback to beat Cal in Berkeley, Arizona St. has struggled. They were taken to overtime by Washington and then lost to Washington St. and Oregon. The Sun Devils did bounce back to beat Arizona, but cal will be facing two struggling teams that have been prone to losses at home. If Cal can secure their 3rd road sweep of the season they will likely wrap up 3rd place in the conference going into the Pac-10 tournament. If not they'll fall back into the jumble with ASU, USC and Oregon and greatly increase the chance that they'll fall to Stanford's side of the bracket. It's very much in Cal's interests to secure that 3rd spot, even if it means a potential 3rd matchup against UCLA's stifling defense.
Note: Sadly, neither game is likely to be televised or available via stream.