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Cal overcomes Pacific, foul trouble for 84-64 win

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Courtney Range and Mikayla Cowling excel in season opening road victory.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

This year, the Bears will live and die based upon the exploits of Brittany Boyd and Reshanda Gray. Right?

Well, probably. I mean, they're pretty darn good and by extension pretty darn important. But Sunday afternoon's road win in Stockton shows that the Bears are more than their two stars.

Gray and Boyd combined for 29 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists. Modest but decent numbers. More oddly, they only played a combined 41 minutes thanks to absurd foul trouble. Lindsay Gottlieb was able to keep her stars on the bench in part because Cal's supporting cast took care of business very efficiently.

Your mildly surprising stars of the day? Courtney Range and Mikayla Cowling. Range scored 27 points on 13 shots and chipped in 11 rebounds in a dominating, efficient showing. Cowling flashed her impressive versatility by scoring inside and out and finished with 18 points and 7 rebounds. Both players played most of the game on the block subbing for Reshanda Gray, and both controlled an undersized UOP much in the fashion we have come to expect from Reshanda Gray.

Any Cal win is beautiful, let alone a 20 point season-opening road game. But this one wasn't the most fun basketball, in part because of a refereeing crew that, quite frankly, took over the game. 47 fouls were called, and both teams reached the bonus and the double bonus early in both halves. Touch fouls were called throughout, and there were a total of 52 free throws. Players and coaches on both sides were increasingly baffled and confused over various calls, and good players on both sides were hampered with foul trouble that they didn't really earn. It wasn't very fun to watch and the fouls didn't really serve any purpose. Boo.

But in a weird way, the foul trouble was good for Cal. We know what Boyd and Gray are going to do, and they don't need more minutes to prove themselves. But we do need to learn how much better the sophomores are, and how ready the freshmen are to contribute. Cal was able to give significant minutes to every single player on the roster other than K.C. Waters, and that's a blessing long term.

Various thoughts:

  • Brittany Boyd very much played a pass first game, but the best news of the day was that her jumper looked goooooood. Of the six shots she attempted, five were jumpers, and she hit 3 with another going halfway down before rimming out. More importantly, I thought her form looked very good. It's just one game, but pre-season chatter about an improved jumper haven't been disproven yet.
  • Gabby Green and Penina Davidson both had freshmen moments. But Mikayla Cowling? Smoother than smooth. If I had come in blind, knowing nothing about the team, I'd have guessed she was a sophomore or junior.
  • Courtney Range looked spectacular, and demanded the ball for long stretches when Gray and Boyd sat. The 7 turnovers are a little high, but how can you argue with a player that averaged more than 2 points/shot? She's using her length to greater effect and her late-season shooting spree has at least carried over for one game.
  • Mercedes Jefflo has improved as a ball-handler and facilitator, and that should help allow Boyd to occasionally rest for a few minutes against all but the most elite of competition. However, her shooting was off.
  • Reshanda's 3rd foul was unlucky (an inadvertent elbow that broke the letter of the law, if not the spirit) and her 4th was a simple blown call, so I'm not going to criticize her inability to avoid foul trouble. And when she was actually in the game she was her usual dominating self. It was wildly entertaining to watch her when she finally came back out onto the court late in the game, completely well-rested, and demanded the ball on every possession to make up for lost time.
  • UOP's only consistent offense was corner 3s (a weakness in Cal's 3-2 zone that will have to be addressed) and free throws thanks to the constant fouls. Otherwise Cal's defense was excellent despite, again, playing without two of their best defenders for most of the game.
Cal will be back in action next Tuesday for their home opener against Nevada. The Wolfpack were solid contenders in the Mountain West last year and opened the season with an easy home win over UCSB, so they could end up being a tougher test than the injury and illness depleted Tigers. All in all, this was an excellent start to the season.