Of the four top seeds in the Pac-12 tournament, the Bears faced by far the toughest matchup. 5 seeded Washington brought plenty of shooters and a home town advantage. But Cal has Brittany Boyd and Washington doesn't, and that was enough.
Boyd finished the game with 20 points (on just 11 shots!), 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Those 3 steals do not remotely do justice to the havoc she caused defensively. Washington, typically an excellent ball-handling team, finished the game with 18 turnovers, and Boyd was involved in most of them.
Late in the 2nd half, Boyd had to briefly leave the game with leg cramps. As she jogged back and forth in the tunnel to the locker room, her teammates did a great job holding the lead in her absence. After a few minutes she returned to the court and immediately forced Jazmine Davis into a travelling violation that she won't get credited for on the stat sheet.
It was that type of defense, spearheaded by Boyd, that won the game for the Bears. Kelsey Plum and Jazmine Davis are probably the best offensive guard duo in the conference outside of Corvallis. They combined to shoot 11-32 from the field with 8 turnovers. Cal's guards hounded them for 40 minutes with man-to-man, 1-3-1 zones, full court presses and 2-3 zones. It was a spectacular fusion of scheme and effort/talent/execution from the players.
A little more than a month ago, I praised Cal's defense for holding UW's excellent offense to just .793 points/possession in Berkeley. Well, the Bears just held UW to .778/possession in Seattle.
Offensively, Cal's go to player was held in check by relentless double and triple teams and some subpar finishing by her lofty standards. But while Reshanda Gray only made 3 field goals, the Bears made up for that in a variety of ways. Cal had a great game on the offensive glass and had multiple 2nd chance opportunities. The Bears shot 40% from behind the arc and 81% from the line to pick up their exhausted post monster.
The play of Boyd - who hit shots from just about every spot on the court - was obviously huge offensively, but she got a bit assist from Mercedes Jefflo, who has a jump shot that looks better and better each week. Jefflo hit four 3 pointers to go along with some nice fast break buckets to score 16.
The game started ominously. Cal came out shooting cold, while Kelsey Plum used her combination of prodigious talent and dark-arts trickery to score a few quick buckets. One awful Reshanda Gray charge call later, and Cal was down 15-7. But Coach G brought out the 1-3-1 and a few turnovers later, Cal had stormed back to take the lead. They would keep the run going all the way into the half for a 32-23 lead.
Washington used a 2-3 zone of their own to stifle Cal's ball movement, and the Huskies would climb within two points. But the story of the game was how Cal stepped up defensively during every trying moment. Another flurry of forced turnovers quickly built the lead back to 10 points. Cal kept building the lead, and with 5:30 to go Jefflo hit a 3 to give Cal a 16 point lead. Plum would foul out a minute later and the game was functionally over.
Cal advances to face Colorado, the surprise team of the tournament. The Buffs took advantage of a horrendous shooting night from Oregon State to pull the upset, and it will be up to the Bears to prevent them from notching another surprise. Cal beat the Buffs by 16 points back on January 5th in the 2nd Pac-12 game of the season for both teams. Plenty has changed since then, but this is still an opportunity that Cal cannot pass up. In the 13 year history of the Pac-10/12 tournament, Cal has only made the final twice and has never won the whole thing.
Doing so this year, with the conference as strong as it has ever been, would be an impressive statement and a title worth celebrating.