That was exhausting, and I didn't even play.
Cal and Arizona stayed played an ugly classic, a game full of plot twists, heroes, villains, luck good and bad, and a climax worthy of an epic novel. It ended with a 50-49 win for the Bears on a shot that left the fingertips of Penina Davidson with somewhere between .02 and .01 seconds left on the clock:
CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BUZZER BEATERS https://t.co/IddCVNnkh7— Avinash Kunnath (@avinashkunnath) February 8, 2015
Cal won despite a potential concussion to Brittany Boyd with about 4 minutes left that kept her out for the remainder of the game. Cal won despite an insane 25 turnovers and an unbelievable 20 ASU offensive rebounds. They won despite another foul-marred game from Reshanda Gray and more than a few bizarro whistles along the way. They won despite dealing with the pain of leading for 39 minutes and 44 seconds, then falling behind. They won despite making just one 3 pointer (on 2 attempts!).
I don't know how they won.
Well, that's not entirely true. Cal won because when the Bears actually got a shot off, they tended to hit it, and when ASU got a shot off, they tended to miss. Cal shot 49% from the field, and ASU shot 32%. That was enough to (just barely) make up for a big disadvantage in turnovers and rebounds. Cal barely won because they played brilliant on-ball defense for 40 minutes, and it was juuuuust enough to make up for everything else that went goofy.
For what it's worth, I doubt Cal needs heroics from Penina Davidson if Boyd plays the last four minutes, or if Reshanda Gray isn't victimized by some awful foul calls. But it says something about this team that they managed to hold on for a critical win with their two best players spending tons of time sitting on the bench.
Hell, Penina Davidson was only in the game because Gray fouled out. She played one minute in the entire game. I have no idea what kind of play Coach G called on that final possession, but I don't get the sense that Cal executed it very well. The Bears struggled to initiate their offense with only 13 seconds to play, and eventually got a Mikayla Cowling off-balance running scoop. But Davidson fought hard for the board, managed to use some good footwork to work herself out from under the basket, then rose up with four Sun Devils surrounding her and managed to get the put back out of her hands JUST in time. And, obviously it went in.
And as the Bears mobbed Davidson in celebration, Brittany Boyd jumped into the air, then collapsed onto her back in relief, before Charmin Smith pulled her up and embraced her in a bear hug. Cal's fiercest competitor was forced to watch the final 4:14 from the bench after hitting the back of her head hard off of the court after colliding with Katie Hempen on a steal attempt. She walked off the court with some help, but maintained consciousness throughout. At the time, Cal was up six, but the Sun Devils kept coming. I would imagine that many coaches would have been sorely tempted to put her back in with the game devolving and a badly needed win seemingly slipping away. I'm not at all surprised that Cal didn't, but I'm happy nonetheless.
Cal started the game on fire on both ends of the court, and played probably their best half of the season en route to building a 26-16 lead. That solid play continued for the first two minutes of the 2nd half, when Cal built their biggest lead of the game: 14 points. The final 18 minutes of the game was a slow ASU comeback attempt as Cal tried to hold on with increasing desperation. When Katie Hempen hit a 3 pointer with 16 seconds left it seemed like all of Cal's work had been for naught.
Mostly, I just want to talk about Cal's half-court defense. It was no fluke that ASU shot so poorly. Cal was all over them for 40 minutes. ASU really struggled to work the ball inside, and when they did Cal's interior defenders did a great job of contesting shots. Cal did a much, much better job playing defense without fouling today (many of Cal's 17 fouls were offensive fouls or loose ball fouls) and 11 steals plus 7 blocks shows how disruptive they were. And ASU has an elite offense. They entered the game 17th in the country in points/possession and Cal absolutely stonewalled them.
Rotations, help defense, smart double teams, hedges, quick hands . . . it was all brilliant for 40 minutes. It might be the best defensive game Cal has played under Lindsay Gottlieb, and it had to be.
- Mikayla Cowling was phenomenal all game long, and was the only consistent source of offense in the 2nd half. She can score in so many ways, and it says something that the final play of the game was probably called for her.
- Gabby Green had one of the most insane stat lines you'll ever see: 7 rebounds, 2 points, 4 assists, 7 turnovers, 4 blocks, 2 steals. Honestly, she had a rough game on offense dealing with ASU's constant ball pressure, but was a brilliant monster on defense, constantly making life miserable for guards that she has 6 or 7 inches on.
- With 5:45 left, Reshanda Gray made a perfect seal, accepted an entry pass, turned towards the basket and scored. For reasons that I cannot even begin to fathom, the refs called her for an offensive foul. It immediately took 2 points off the scoreboard, and put Gray back on the bench with 4 fouls and contributed to her fouling out later. ASU hit a 3 on the ensuing possession. I cannot, in all my years watching basketball, imagine a worse foul being more consequential. It had an immediate multi-point impact and a long term impact on Cal's offense and defense. If I were Lindsay Gottlieb, I probably would have gotten multiple technicals and been thrown out of the game. Considering the final score, make that reason #4,639,029 that she's a good coach and I'm not.
- I can't believe Cal won this game with only 22 minutes from Gray. It's all about growth in defense, and growth from the freshmen.
- As rough a time as Cal had securing defensive rebounds, they made up for it with a few huge offensive rebounds and put-backs - none bigger than the game winner, obviously.