The first game of the season came in the form of a test from a blue-collar University of Houston team that came in eager to do all that was needed to beat a 24th-ranked California Bears squad.
The game started off bumpy, as both teams took a while to find a rhythm. The common theme was sloppy passes, lazy ball handling, and not finishing plays on both ends. If we compared both rosters, without a doubt we would conclude that Cal has the better all-around team, but they did not play like it early.
The brightest spot in the game for Cal was when senior forward Kristine Anigwe scored 21 points in the third quarter alone. After sitting the last 6 minutes of the second quarter due to foul trouble, she came back in the third quarter giving her team the dominant post play that they expect from her. Anigwe finished the game with 37 points on the night.
Grad-transfer Recee’ Caldwell was put in an interesting position in tonight’s contest. In certain moments we saw her as the primary ball handler, taking away from here offensive productivity. She spent much of the game passing up high-percentage shots to instead create a play for her teammates. Though I don’t think her being a ball handler is bad, I think that she would be even more of a threat for this team if she looked for her own scoring in the process.
Cal got some big play out of forwards CJ West and Jaelyn Brown. West had 8 points off the bench, playing the minutes that ANigwe sat due to foul trouble, propelling the Bears in a time that they desperately needed offense. Brown had 10 points and 8 rebounds, some of those points coming at a crucial time in the 4th quarter when Houston was making a comeback late in the game. Coach Gottlieb spoke after the game on how this win happened because each player did their role, citing West and Brown and two prime examples of that.
The Bears won 80-79, in what was a grind it out type of win. Though Cal struggled to shoot all game, Coach Gottlieb is confident in their shooting ability going forward this season. Though the game came down to the wire, Cal made clutch plays down the stretch that propelled them to victory.
Going forward, here are some things that I think the team needs to do to in order to make a deep playoff run:
- Backcourt play must be better. Yes, it was a bad shooting night for the team, but the wing players did not do a good enough job of even driving to the basket. There was a point in the game where the high-low offense on the inside was not working either, and it was obvious Cal was trying to force the ball in there. We need the guards and wing players to look to score more offense, because when everyone is an option, the defense has to play more honest. Houston was not good at help defense, and Cal could have done a better job of exploiting that. We have great wing players who bring versatility, but we need to see more of them trying to put the ball in the basket.
- Worse pressure is coming. Houston’s full-court press troubled Cal all throughout the game. Houston was able to force many turnovers from it. This is something that Cal needs to spend much time working on right now, because even better teams are ahead on this schedule, and the pressure they will bring will only get tougher. Houston was able to create many traps by letting Cal players dribble down the sideline, bringing a defender over right around half-court to rattle the offensive player, and sometimes it worked. The key to breaking a press is getting the ball to the middle of the court. Houston did not seem concerned with stopping the ball from getting there, it was open much of the night. The press-offense was not terrible, but there are some things that need to be cleaned up.
- Charges are a big deal. Cal did a great job of stepping in under the basketball and taking a few charges. This helped Cal out because a loose-playing Houston team had to deal with the consequences of players being in foul trouble early in the game. With a team like Houston that lacks discipline and depends on their physicality to win them games, taking charges helps you beat them. Taking charges shows me that Cal is committing to making hustle plays, which can make all the difference in a basketball game.