If you were lucky enough to either be in attendance at Haas Pavilion or were able to tune in to Pac-12 Bay Area, you were able to watch one of the most insanely exciting, back-and-forth, delightfully flawed-but-brilliant games of basketball you could ever hope to see.
Let's get the basics out of the way first. Cal played probably their best basketball of the season en route to a 13 point halftime lead, and managed to withstand multiple UCLA runs in the 2nd half as the Bruins tried to get back into it. With 55 seconds left the Bears were up eight and seemingly had the game iced away.
But a furious UCLA rally mixed in with more than a few Cal errors allowed the Bruins to possess the ball down 3 points with 3 seconds left, so of course Jordin Canada threw up a weird looking prayer of a 3 pointer (she was looking to pass to Kari Korver before realizing there wasn't enough time) that fell right into the basket.
At this point, things looked bleak for the Bears. Kristine Anigwe had just fouled out and the Bears were down to just seven healthy players.* Penina Davidson would foul out late in the first overtime, just after hitting a layup to tie the game. UCLA made 1 of 2 subsequent free throws, giving Cal the ball down 1 with 40 seconds left. After 25 seconds of disjointed offense due to furious UCLA pressure, Coach G called a timeout. Cal didn't execute particularly well out of that timeout, but Asha Thomas returned Jordin Canada's favor by hitting an equally absurd, equally off-balance desperation 3 as the shot clock expired. Bears by 2!
Unfortunately, Cal completely lost track of their defensive duties and UCLA was able to move quickly with a baseball in bounds pass for an easy layup to tie. Double OT!
Cal and UCLA continued trading baskets, and the Bears again trailed in the final minute of the extra period. This time it was Courtney Range who stepped up to hit a long 2 point jumper to take the lead back. But instead the Bears recovered for the final defensive stand. UCLA missed a 3 pointer, Cal secured the rebound and made free throws, and that was enough to hold on for a critically important 'non-conference' win.
You know, just your garden variety game featuring two successful hail mary 3s, an 8 point final minute comeback, a losing team that scored triple digits, and a game that saw 90 total points foul out of the game. If you will excuse me, I need a nap.
*It was revealed in double OT that Chen Yue sprained her foot in practice and is out for an as-yet undetermined amount of time.
In terms of analysis of the game . . . well, let's start with Cal's offense. The Bears scored 108 points in 103 possessions, which wasn't quite as efficient as I thought. But if/when Cal avoided turning the ball over, the offense was deadly despite not having a particularly effective night from behind the arc.
Defensively, Cal played a brilliant first half and an OK 4th quarter, but struggled late in the game with stopping Jordin Canada from using a series of ball screens before hurling herself at Cal's paint defenders, who were all trying very hard not to foul out of the damned game. This would either result in a Canada basket, a Cal foul, or an offensive rebound because Cal's help defenders were busy trying to stop Canada. Between that strategy and the cramps and bruises that the players were dealing with, they did just enough to hold off the hard-charging Bruins.
Let's talk about each player who entered the game, because they each deserve unique praise:
Courtney Range was Cal's MVP - she was the main player holding back UCLA's otherwise deadly surge of offensive rebounds, and she played easily her most assertive offensive game. Some players who can play down low and also handle the ball a little become jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none players who don't quite have as much impact as you think they should. That's not Courtney Range, not any more. UCLA's defenders just couldn't deal with how far and how fast she could move with her hugely long steps.
Plus she calmly stepped up and hit a 20 footer that turned out to be the game winning basket.
Kristine Anigwe went for 25 and 10 despite 'only' playing 32 minutes thanks to fouls. She actually played huge minutes with 3 and 4 fouls all through the 2nd half and managed them pretty well, which is tremendously encouraging for the rest of the season. She regularly made UCLA's variety of interior defenders look silly and/or un-athletic, when they are decidedly not. She's a star, and she was the driving force that put Cal up 8 in the final minute.
Asha Thomas says 'eff it, I'm gonna attack the paint and throw up a blind pass to Anigwe and it'll work cause they can't stop her.'— Nicolas Kranz (@NorCalNickCGB) December 22, 2015
Mikayla Cowling didn't have a great offensive game in regulation, but when Anigwe fouled out and UCLA started focusing all of their defensive pressure on Range, it was Cowling who stepped up to keep pace by being aggressive with the ball and sinking shots. She also played a ton of on-ball defense on Canada, which is exhausting and partly explains why she wasn't an offensive focal point until she HAD to be. And why she was cramping up late in the game, after 50 minutes of court time. Gutty part 1
Gabby Green picked up some kind of mild ankle injury that significantly reduced her speed and effectiveness on both ends, but she still played all through overtime because, well she had to. That somehow didn't stop her from pulling down some critical offensive boards and, at point one, taking on her defender when she couldn't find an outlet pass and the shot clock was running down. Gutty part 2.
Penina Davidson played her best game in a Cal uniform. She took on her defender like I've never seen before with a variety of nifty feints and spins, finishing with 15 obviously crucial points. In a game that wasn't necessarily even a great match-up for her, she muscled up and did her best to mix it up with UCLA's bigger, stronger post players.
Asha Thomas cannot possibly be a freshman point guard, can she? Against constant full court pressure and half court ball pressure, she kept the Cal offense flowing smoothly while also playing 50 minutes without ever taking a break. She followed Kari Korver around the court and generally kept the 3 point specialist from getting off many decent looks. Her late free throws were clutch, and my only wish was that Cal could have been more successful getting her the ball in late game in-bounds situations.
My cats don't appreciate the noises I make when Asha hits 3s— Nicolas Kranz (@NorCalNickCGB) December 22, 2015
MaAne Mosley was thrust into a challenging situation: After sitting for 40 of the first 44 minutes, now you have to play the rest of the game, for however long that goes. She responded with the final defensive rebound and free throw that clinched the game.
That was one of the greatest games in Cal women's basketball history, and in the history of Haas Pavilion. It puts the Bears at 8-2, and adds another really valuable win to the non-conference resume. It also means that Cal has extended a very satisfying win streak over UCLA to 8 points, a fact that was not lost upon recent alums:
I really freaking love Cal women's basketball.