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Cal 76, USC 64: Bears open Pac-12 play with a win

A balanced effort earns Cal a solid start in conference action.

The beginning of Pac-12 play is always scary. While non-conference play tells you something, interpreting the results is always hard. Cal put together a pretty solid lineup of non-conference opponents, and yet the Bears have probably only played 2 or 3 games against teams representative of the talent level they will face night in/night out in Pac-12 play. USC’s schedule was even weaker. With a newish head coach, it’s just really hard to know what to expect in the conference opener.

Which makes what ended up being a pretty routine win feel so good. Cal slowly built a 10 point lead over the course of the first half, expanded that lead out to 17 points in the 3rd quarter, then weathered foul trouble for Kristine Anigwe and a determined USC rally to comfortably close out the win. It was rarely spectacular but felt very professional, very veteran.

Really, the only surprise of the night was Kristine Anigwe: 3 point deadeye. She entered the game a mere 1-5 from behind the arc, and I can’t say that I really remember any of her attempts. Were they end-of-shot-clock heaves? No matter - Kristine went 3-3 from 3 point land, including a dagger that put Cal up 12 with 4:34 to play.

The critical stretch of the game came early in the 4th quarter. USC had shaved 13 points off of Cal’s biggest lead to close within 4 points, and Kristine was on the bench after a very questionable foul call late in the 3rd quarter. But Penina Davidson scored nine straight points, with 6 of those coming directly as a consequence of her own offensive rebounds.

Again, it was a very balanced performance from the Bears. In addition to Kristine and Penina, Mikayla Cowling and Jaelyn Brown all reached double figures. Every Bear that played scored at least 4 points, and six different players recorded an assist (17 on 26 made baskets).

Defensively, Cal mostly played zone, but they mixed in some player-to-player and played at least 2 different zones, and USC never looked particularly comfortable. The stat of the game might be USC’s 3-18 performance from behind the arc (psh, Kristine needed 1/6 of the attempts to match USC’s production). USC isn’t a great shooting team, but they’re typically better than 3-18.

Just as importantly, Cal did a solid enough job keeping USC from getting a ton of 2nd chance opportunities and prevented USC from getting inside a ton. USC shot a season low percentage from the floor against Cal, which is probably a reflection both of USC’s weak schedule and Cal’s improving defense.

Next up is UCLA, who took an ugly loss to Stanford tonight. Cal and UCLA have played hectic, thrilling games over the last few years, and the Bruins will be pressing to avoid the 0-2 Bay Area road trip. Game time is 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, and you should make every effort to make it out if you’re anywhere near Berkeley.