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Cal WBB holds off Oklahoma for critical non-conference win

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The Bears build a 25 point lead, almost blow it, but do enough to stay undefeated in 82-74 win.

Cal Athletics: Calbears.com

For three quarters, the Bears looked like a top 10 team. A run late in the 2nd quarter gave Cal an 18 point cushion at halftime, and they built the lead all the way up to 25 early in the 4th quarter. Cal was controlling the game in all phases and appeared ready to cruise to a dominating win over a truly legit opponent.

If you followed the game online, you got to enjoy the very professional play-by-play work of Oklahoma’s WBB announcer*. You also got to enjoy his hot mic conversations with his producer during breaks, while they discussed Oklahoma highlight plays to include in the post-game show. At halftime, he said that Oklahoma needed to start hitting shots or they wouldn’t have anything. During a timeout in the 3rd quarter, as asked his producer if he had anything. The response? Nope. That’s how in control the Bears were for 30 minutes.

*This sounds sarcastic but wasn’t meant to be - dude was really quite good.

So you might be surprised to hear that Oklahoma missed a wide open fast break layup that would have cut Cal’s lead to 2 points with about 1:30 left in the game. What and/or how?!

I don’t exactly know what in the world happened during a seven minute stretch when Cal’s lead got cut from 25 to 3. I know that at one point Cal turned the ball over 8 times in one stretch of 10 possessions. I know that Cal scored just 6 points while Oklahoma scored 28.

Most of all, I know that Cal found themselves just in time to actually win the damned game, and that’s what will count today, tomorrow, and when the selection committee meets in March.

That’s what this game was really about. Cal’s non-conference resume was lacking that one, marquee win. Oklahoma entered the game ranked 19th in the flawed-but-critical RPI rankings, and will likely stay in the top 50 all season long. If Cal can hold their own in the very tough looking Pac-12, they will make the tournament easily. And if they do more than just hold their own they could earn themselves a very nice seed for a team that didn’t make the post-season of any kind last year.

That Cal won was largely due to - guess who - Kristine Anigwe. That she scored 32 points on 18 shots is no longer surprising. That she basically fouled out an entire front court is no longer surprising. But she is adding to her game and becoming increasingly unplayable on both ends. This time around, she wowed with her defense. Oklahoma’s bigs shot a combined 4-13 and were only sent to the line once. Anigwe nearly had as many blocks as Okahoma’s posts had field goals. It got to the point where they stopped even trying to go inside to anybody because Anigwe was lurking.

Cal’s defense was brilliant in that first half, holding Oklahoma to an absurd .49 points/possession, which is roughly half their usual efficiency so far this season. They mostly did it with strong one-on-one defense, containing Oklahoma’s dribble-drive weave, post-ups, and transition offense.

Alas, defense that suffocating was never going to last. Oklahoma started scoring in the 3rd, but the Bears more than matched them as the Sooners started playing faster and forcing pace in a desperate comeback attempt.

If there even is a post-game presser, I would be curious to hear Coach G’s thoughts on the near-epic collapse. There reached a point in the game where Cal could’ve won comfortably if they had simply held the ball for 30 seconds and then played solid defense - it’s almost impossible to score 25 points in 8:30 against a slow paced team playing reasonably passable defense.

Instead, Cal played into what Oklahoma wanted by making risky plays, failing to get back in transition, and just generally handing Oklahoma a chance to win a game they had no business winning. In the end I guess it’s just a learning experience, but I hope Cal does better the next time they’re in a similar situation. Also, I hope that Cal frequently has to figure out how to ice games when they take 25 point leads. 25 point leads are pretty sweet.

The other obvious bone of contention is Cal’s 33 turnovers. In a game that was somewhere around 92/93 possessions, that’s a turnover percentage of roughly 35%, which is bonkers but also a pretty clear outlier. It’s worth noting that the turnover count was goosed by a notably whistle-happy reffing performance. Any and all violations were called, many of them quite phantom. Both teams picked up technical fouls as frustrations with the refs boiled over. I’m not going to condone technicals, but in this particular case I can understand the frustrations from both teams - the refs were awful.

In the end both the near comeback and the turnovers are footnotes on an otherwise excellent win. The Bears are well poised for the season. Presuming they take care of business against what should be an overmatched Arkansas St. squad late on Wednesday night, they will enter Pac-12 play undefeated, with a top 20 RPI. There’s plenty to play for in one of the most fascinating Pac-12 seasons in memory.