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Cal WBB Comes Back to Beat Saint Mary’s In Classic

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A fifteen point deficit was erased in a span of about 12 minutes.

The players meet after the conclusion of the game.
Photo taken by Gustav Davila

The Cal Women’s Basketball team is still undefeated after a thrilling win in Moraga last Saturday. The Bears perfect record looked to be in danger as Saint Mary’s led by as many as eight in the first half. The Bears have trailed and struggled against weaker teams in the past, then ran away in the second half; so when the Bears came back to tie the game in the second quarter, there was little reason to worry.

The Saint Mary’s Gaels aren’t just any team though. The Gaels notably upset the Bears in Berkeley a few seasons ago on a buzzer beater and were hungry for another upset on their home court. When the second half started it felt like everything that could go wrong for Cal went wrong. Shots were going down by the Gaels, the Bears could not buy a bucket, and the Bears didn’t look ready to play. In a blink of an eye the Gaels went up 15 with just about 3 minutes left in the third quarter. Then... the Bears finally woke up. A late run in the third cut the lead to seven. Not exactly insurmountable at that point.

It looked like a comeback wasn’t meant to be. Every time the Bears cut it to two or three the Gaels had an answer. When the Bears did get a stop, the Bears would miss point blank shots (as well as free throws). Finally, after some missed free throws by the Gaels and perhaps a break from the refs (Not sure I agreed with the offensive foul that cost the Gaels a game-clinching bucket, but the Bears were screwed over a few times themselves during the match) the Bears made a perfect after-the-time-out play. Asha Thomas found Kristine Anigwe under the basket for the game tying bucket. The Gaels were not able to hit the game winner.

Overtime appeared to be all Bears thanks to an early three by Kianna Smith and a second jumper by her shortly after. The Gaels’ magic ran out, but they did not go away. In the end, they had the ball with about 20 seconds left and could force a second overtime with their ninth 3-pointer of the game, but the buzzer beater did not go in. The Bears celebrated and their record remains unblemished!

It was my first game of the season (I had work for nearly every home game, and the one game I was able to make was moved to Palo Alto due to AQI) and I was not excited about the prospect of my first game being their first loss. Thankfully that was not the case. It was very fun to see how the team has grown since last season. Newcomer Reece Caldwell has made a huge impact on the team and scored 20 on Saturday while playing the entire gmae. McKenzie Forbes received solid minutes but is still a work in progress. Asha Thomas had her standard great game, which is amazing considering her season looked to be in doubt after her injury last Sunday (Full disclosure: I didn’t see video of it). Kristine Anigwe led the team with 24 points. She did show a lot of fatigue near the end, which might have been why she missed some point blank shots in the closing minutes of regulation.

You have to admire how the team came back from 15-points down, but prior that the Bears were already stepping up when the Gaels looked to take control of the game. In the first half the Gaels made it rain from the three-point line (five in the first quarter), but then the Bears started hitting some of their own (three in the first) and nearly evened up that aspect of the game.

The worrying aspect was the Bears playing sloppy to start the game... and then doing it again to start the third quarter. They had lot of passes that were stolen, and easy shots that didn't go in. Worse was on defense where the Gaels often had a player under the basket with no one around them for an easy two points. Most, if not all, of the made three points were uncontested as well. A team like UConn (not to mention Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford) will not let the Bears rally back in the fourth quarter. While the Bears have a great RPI and ranking, there is still a long way to go before we can start having dreams of a long tourney run. But hey... nothing wrong with doing it anyway.

What else does anyone want to know? How was the roadtrip? Well, McKeon Pavilion is tiny which makes for some weird acoustics with the buzzers and the ball bouncing on the court. I did appreciate that they sold beer (!!) inside the gym. The chairbacks were weird and felt like they were on the verge of breaking. Overall I like that the Bears do play at the nearby schools, as it makes for some fun roadtrips (But this is the first time I’ve done a WBB somewhere other than Haas or Maples). One of these days I’ll get to do the Pacific or Santa Clara trips and maybe the team will head to SJSU or USF someday. Parking wasn’t a huge problem, and for the women’s games it was free. I’d consider doing it again if they schedule another game in Moraga.

Next up is Coach G’s former squad in UC Santa Barbara. I’m not 100% sure I can go at the moment, but it should be a good one worthy of your time. Not only is it a reunion for Lindsay, but remember one of our Final Four alums is on the coaching staff (Eliza Pierre) so it will be double-reunion! After that is UConn which I absolutely positively will be at and I hope you all will be too.

Beat the Gauchos!