I'll admit it, I was worried about this game. Some of it was just irrational nervousness. But South Florida, when I looked at their resume and stats, seemed a bit underseeded. And the Bears hadn't looked quite like their usual amazing selves since sweeping through L.A. a month or so back. Might an upset be in the cards?
So it was really encouraging to watch the Bears slowly but surely pull away from the Bulls. At halftime, the lead was five. Six minutes into the 2nd half, Cal's lead was up to eight. With 7:44 left it was all the way up to fourteen, and the Bears stayed up by 10 points until there was a minute left in the game.
And it all went to hell. USF somehow went on a 12-2 run in that final minute, fueled by six missed free throws by the Bears and seven made free throws by the Bulls. Twice Cal fouled on 3 point attempts. I suppose I should give some credit to USF for actually making their free throws, but frankly Cal granted them a chance. Cal had to miss 16 free throws AND commit two awful fouls just for USF to even have a chance to tie.
And so the game went into overtime, the Bears decided to hit their free throws (8-10) and USF just didn't have to energy, or really the bodies, to keep up. It's a rare event indeed to see another team switch lineups in and out for the express purpose of keeping their starters in the game.
As I've said many times before, the current Cal lineup is not a good free throw shooting team, and they will never be a good shooting team. This is immutable fact. So I'm going to be talking about other things.
Like, say, Layshia Clarendon. She scored 27 points on 19 shots and punished USF for every defensive mistake. If they sagged off her (why would anybody do that?) she nailed a 3. If they played her tightly, she wove her way into the paint for a mid-range jumper or an assist. Her and-1 bank shot might have been the play of the game. Before the game I asked for her and Brittany Boyd to outplay the Smith twins. They did.
Brittany's part of the bargain was less obviously spectacular. She didn't have a great day from the field, but she again flirted with a triple double (12 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists) and focused more on distributing. But she had an amazing halfcourt assist and a beautiful teardrop runner when Cal made their (seemingly game clinching) run in the 2nd half.
With Layshia leading, everybody else played their part. Gen contributed her usual triple double. Afure hit a few 3s, and perhaps more importantly, showed poise from the line. Reshanda and Talia didn't get a ton of post touches, but they were efficient when they got them. There are two things I like about this team: Anybody can be the star on any given day, and the players who aren't the star that day do a hell of a job as role players.
Defensively, I had zero qualms with the Bears until that final minute. Orekhova got off a few more 3s than I'd have liked, but the twins combined to go just 10-37 from the field and the Bears held a fast-paced team to just 2 fast break points. Cal dominated the paint, they dominated in transition, and if only they had dominated from the free throw line it would have been a standard double digit win that wouldn't have gotten a 2nd glance from the rest of the country.
Whatever. You can't be picky about your wins in March. Cal will play the winner of Tuesday night's LSU/Penn State game played in Baton Rouge. I look forward to scouting Cal's Sweet 16 opponent. ON TO SPOKANE!