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Cal WBB opens the season with a narrow win over Houston

Kristine Anigwe goes for 37 points but Cal struggles to put away the visiting Cougars in 80-79 win

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The nice thing about having a player like Kristine Anigwe on the roster is that when nobody else can get going offensively she’s almost enough on her own.

Anigwe scored 37 points, sank exactly half of Cal’s field goals, pulled down 13 rebounds, and was functionally unguardable in the 2nd half. And as it turned out, Cal would need each of her 37 points to outlast a surprisingly game Houston squad.

Last year the Cougars were a middle-of-the-pack AAC team, but they returned five starters, all of which are juniors and seniors, so perhaps Cal fans should have been wary about a veteran team coming ready to play to start the season.

Still, by that same token the Bears bring plenty of experience to the table. It was Cal’s most valuable, experienced player that made the difference.

Anigwe took the game over in the 3rd quarter, shooting a perfect 8-8 from the field and 5-5 from the line for an absurd 21 points in 10 minutes. Her dynamic scoring run, fueled by Houston’s surprising decision to rarely offer double teams or defensive help, turned a one point halftime deficit into a 10 point forth quarter lead.

But Houston refused to give in and scored 31 4th quarter points thanks to some defensive lapses on Cal’s part, both in transition and on the perimeter allowing open 3 point looks.

But although Houston did finally cut the lead to 1 point inside the final seconds and had a chance to attempt a game tying 3, they never had a shot to take the lead and Cal capped off an excellent night from the line (26-31) by keeping the Cougars at bay with free throws from Asha Thomas and Jaelyn Brown.

Various observations

  • I wasn’t able to catch the first half, but just based on the numbers it looks pretty dire. More turnovers (7) than field goals (4) says plenty.
  • Cal fans will rightly be concerned that players other than Kristine Anigwe shot just 13-40. If you remove CJ West’s 4-5 line and look only at Cal’s guards/wings, the number drops to 9-35. The Bears just couldn’t buy a jumper against Houston.
  • Hardly shocking, but worth noting: As in previous seasons, Cal frequently switched back and forth between player-to-player and zone defenses, though I can’t say I got any feel for whether or not either concept was more or less successful than the other.
  • McKenzie Forbes got 16 minutes in her collegiate debut, and while she couldn’t find her shooting touch she was the only Bear to not commit a turnover.
  • The final minute of the game was not an example of sharp early season execution.
  • This isn’t news for any of you, but goodness gracious Kristine Anigwe. Sure, her dominance was aided by pretty puzzling defensive choices by Houston, but it says something that when a team decides to play ‘normal’ defense they’re basically just asking for certain player to go for 30+. She was also by far the biggest reason that Cal got to shoot 31 free throws, as she all but fouled out Houston’s front line by herself, as is her wont.

One game in, and it’s hard not to look at this game and think that Cal has plenty to work on if the Bears want to reach the lofty expectations set by Coach Gottlieb before the season. Looking at just about anything on the stat sheet other than the every day brilliance of Anigwe reveals something potentially concerning. Cal turned the ball over a lot for a team with multiple returning ball handlers, struggled to get a 2nd player going on offense, and had multiple defensive lapses. Houston is good, but they’re also probably a team that Cal should be beating by 10 to 15 points at home if they’re reaching their potential.

The upcoming schedule features a few more teams that are probably on a similar ability tier in Penn State and BYU . . . but on the road. We will quickly see if this game was a one-off rough performance or an indication that the Bears might be more vulnerable than anticipated.