As a fan, the only regret I have is that the final score doesn't really reflect how tough our Bears played the 5th ranked Baylor Bears.
With 10 minutes left, Afure Jemerigbe hit a layup assisted by Brittany Boyd to cut the Baylor lead to three. The biggest lead had been just seven points, and that against a team that had only lost two home games all season, by 2 points to West Virginia and by 11 to UConn.
True, Cal was able to keep it close in part because Baylor's two stars both sat with foul trouble for major stretches of the 1st half. But it's also true that good defense (drawing charges) and aggressive, controlled offense helped put those players in foul trouble. For 30 minutes, Cal played a heavily favored opponent on their home court more or less even. I haven't seen many other women's basketball games (THANKS ESPN) but I would have to suspect that those 30 minutes were perhaps the best 30 minutes of basketball two teams have collectively played in the tournament so far.
Baylor ended the game on a 22-6 run. Odyssey Sims showed why she's an All-American, scoring 11 of Baylor's next 15 points and dishing out the assists on the other four points she didn't score. There's no shame in getting beaten by the best, even if it's not fun. Cal made Sims inefficient (by her lofty standards) for most of the game, and she finished with 'just' 27 points on 25 shots. But when crunch time started, the most talented player played like it, and that's typically the story in many basketball games.
Baylor was just a little bit better in every phase of the game. They won the turnover battle by 4, the rebounding battle by 2, and they attempted and made 6 more free throws than our Bears. The only way for Cal to make up the deficit would have been to outshoot the Lady Bears, but that's not how Cal typically wins games. Sure enough, Baylor shot just a bit better than Cal. Add it all up and you get a Baylor win, even if the final deficit didn't reflect how Cal played for the majority of the game.
This was the final Cal game for four seniors, and for the three that played they finished their careers with games that reflected their four years in Berkeley. Mikayla Lyles played solid minutes and hit a couple jumpers to keep Cal close. Afure Jemerigbe played high level perimeter defense and hit a variety of jumpers and runners. And Gennifer Brandon finished with 15 rebounds against a front line not used to allowed opponents to reach double digits on the glass.
The point guard battle was worth the price of admission. Boyd had her usual stat-stuffing game, and her ability to break down Baylor's defense off the dribble was the source of the majority of Cal's offense. Boyd, her own harshest critic, will likely bemoan iffy finishing and a few too many turnovers. I'm inclined to credit Baylor's excellent defense more than anything else. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to better Sims.
Would things have been different if Reshanda Gray hadn't picked up her 4th foul early in the 2nd half before Lindsay Gottlieb could get her off the court? Would things have been different if Cal had finished a bit better? I suppose. Still, it's hard to escape the conclusion that Baylor was the better team, and it would have taken a confluence of unlikely events to change things.
We'll have plenty of content over the next few weeks recapping this season and looking forward to the next. It's never fun to end a season with a loss. Still, in a mild transition year after losing a significant portion of the core that carried Cal to the Final Four, the Bears still managed to finish in the top two in the Pac-12 and in the round of 32 for the 3rd straight year under Lindsay Gottlieb.
The Bears have established a high bar of expectation for themselves, a bar that they will attempt to raise every year. With Brittany Boyd and Reshanda Gray back for their senior year supported by players both familiar and new, it should be another highly anticipated campaign. Losing doesn't diminish in any way how much I've loved watching our Bears. Is it next year yet?