For 25 minutes the Bears and Tigers (oh my) engaged in a back-and-forth game in which neither team could build a lead larger than 6 points. A three point play from Sierra Michaelis gave Missouri a 1 point lead with 15:34 left in the 2nd half, and it seemed like the game was destined to stay close through to the final buzzer.
Instead, Reshanda Gray took over on offense, and Brittany Boyd took over on defense. Cal went on an 11-2 run, but it would be more accurate to say that Reshanda Gray went on an 11-2 run, because she was the only Cal scorer in that stretch. She scored in six possessions out of eight as Cal made it a clear point to get the ball to their best scorer inside. The Bears kept that exact strategy going for the rest of the 2nd half, and when the dust settled Gray had 21 2nd half points.
Gray had been quiet up until that point in large part because of excellent defense from Missouri's Jordan Frericks. However, guarding Gray for a long period of time takes its toll, and Frericks picked up her 4th foul early in the 2nd half. As soon as she left the court Gray went off, and began drawing foul after foul on Frerick's overwhelmed replacements. Missouri's lack of size eventually betrayed them, and it will be very rare for Cal to face a team that has more than 1 player capable of guarding Gray without help from a double team.
Meanwhile, Brittany Boyd was busy harassing an overwhelmed Missouri backcourt. Without their incumbent point guard, the Tigers increasingly struggled to initiate their offense. That problem worsened in the 2nd half when Cal picked up their defensive intensity. Cal would eventually force 15 turnovers after the break, with most of them coming from Boyd. She was credited with 6 steals, but also drew at least three offensive fouls and jarred the ball loose on multiple other occasions. Based on the description provided by Missouri radio, I would speculate that Boyd could be credited with direct involvement in at least 10 Missouri turnovers, if not more.
Cal needed those turnovers because Boyd was mired in one of her worst offensive games of her career. She finished just 5-20 from the field, and had she finished runners or hit a few jumpers like you might ordinarily expect, this game well could have been a much more comfortable affair.
Boyd and Gray were supported by another excellent performance from Mikayla Cowling, who continues to absolutely shoot the lights out. Her 15 points on just 7 shots might make Cal fans ask why she isn't shooting the ball more often. Don't try to fix what isn't broken, I suppose?
The biggest surprise of the night was that Cal was outrebounded by a relatively small Missouri team. Since I can only go off of what the radio announcer said, I can't really speculate as to why. I will note that Missouri was a solid rebounding team last year despite not really having any more size last year either. Good coaching, conservative strategy, or strong fundamentals? I don't know. Cal certainly won't dominate the glass like they did when they had Gennifer Brandon and/or Talia Caldwell, but I expect them to keep the margin close against most teams. For now it's something to watch as the season develops.
The other major concern is the shooting of Brittany Boyd and Mercedes Jefflo. The combined to shoot 9-31, and 2-11 from behind the arc. Missouri basically dared them to shoot for much of the game, and when they settled for jumpers it was usually in to the Tiger's benefit. This is just one game, but early returns are iffy. We still haven't reached the point where a jumper from either is better than a drive or a entry to the post.
We also got an early hint as to how the rotation will work this year. And it seems pretty simple: Out of Boyd, Jefflo, Green, Cowling and Range, Cal will almost always have four on the court, and they will rotate to keep each other relatively fresh. And Reshanda Gray will play as many minutes as her foul situation dictates, with Hartman and Davidson spelling her as necessary.
It's simple and makes sense, but will be strained when Cal faces a ref with a tight whistle or a team that can draw fouls. It will be the responsibility of every single player to avoid unnecessary fouls as much as possible. Against Missouri they largely did so.
The Bears are now 4-0, and will head back to Berkeley for a three game home stand. Missouri might actually be the best team Cal faces until Louisville comes to town, although their 2nd round opponent in the Cal Classic, and a roadie against Kansas might be tougher. Still, I was most concerned about how Cal would do early in the year when the freshmen were at their greenest (no punt intended) and the Bears have gotten along just fine. That bodes well for the rest of the year.