I've talked recently about how Cal is capable of winning games by playing with different styles and paces, but you usually don't see them prove it within the same game. Utah came into this game playing almost the slowest pace in the country. For 20 minutes Cal played their style, and it was ugly. Hideous. Not fun. But they still led 21-19 at halftime.
During the half the broadcast gave us a brief glimpse of the Cal locker room. It was a bit more nuanced, but Lindsay Gottleib's message was basically "play faster!" That's exactly what Cal did. They scored exactly double their first half total, forced Utah to play out of their comfort zone, and finished with a seven point road win to move to 4-2 in the Pac-12.
It was Brittany Boyd, Gennifer Brandon and Layshia Clarendon who did the majority of the heavy lifting. They all contributed in different phases of the game to boot. Brandon dominated the boards (15), Brittany made the offense go (6 assists, 13 points) and Layshia did everything else, contributing on both ends and finishing with 4 steals. If Utah didn't go nuts from 3 at the end of the game then Cal wins this one going away. As it is, any road win by any means is something worth celebrating.
While we were busy bemoaning Cal's 0-2 start in conference play, the rest of the Pac-12 was busy beating itself up. All of a sudden the Bears are alone in 3rd place, and a full game and a half ahead of five teams tied for 5th. The Pac-12 may not have another top-25 team to challenge Stanford, but they do have a whole mess of solidly decent teams capable of beating each other on any given night. Cal went on the road and beat two of those teams, and that's a huge boost after what happened in Los Angeles.
My favorite aspect of Cal's win over Utah was the passing on offense. For once, Cal didn't depend on offensive rebounding to win a game, and instead won with simple offensive execution. And it wasn't just Brittany Boyd, though her passing was certainly the most spectacular at times. Layshia and Eliza Pierre both contributed good entry passes, and Cal's ball movement was generally clean throughout the game. After wringing our hands over turnovers at the beginning of the season, Cal has quietly become pretty good at taking care of the ball. Just 10 turnovers today for the Bears, and mostly on violations and offensive fouls rather than bad passes.
Cal's defense was excellent with the exception of contesting 3 pointers. Holding Taryn Wicijowski to just two points was a major victory. As expected, Michelle Plouffe's ability to step back and hit 3s was a tough matchup, but she didn't get much of anything in the paint. And while Juanita Badon had 10 assists, she also turned it over 7 times, a major key to the game.
Next week Cal hosts the Washington schools, and Saturday's game will match up the 3rd and 4th place teams in the conference. A sweep would put Cal in excellent position before heading to Palo Alto, but it won't be easy. I still feel like some revenge against the Washington schools is in order after what happened last year. Go Bears!