The No. 13/15 California Golden Bears opened their 2012-2013 season with an easy victory, using their depth to overwhelm Lehigh 80-48. Five Bear players scored in double-figures, led by junior forward Gennifer Brandon’s 17.
“It was a nice way to start the season,” said Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “We started the game with a ton of energy and really asserted how we wanted to play. Our defense in the first half, both in forcing turnovers and getting stops, was really good. We did a good job converting.”
Brittany Boyd had 16, and Layshia Clarendon had 14, and Afure Jemerigbe and Reshanda Gray each contributed 10.
“Overall, I think we did pretty good considering that it is our first game that counts,” said Brandon. “I think that we played well together and we stuck it out. There were times that we did get sloppy.”
Brandon also had a team-high 10 rebounds, despite playing with a cold, which left her raspy-voiced and coughing through the post-game press conference. Cal had a 53-35 edge on the glass.
“You always do what you can do to help the team,” said Brandon. “If you can walk, you can run.”
For Lehigh, freshman forward Kerry Krinek led the way with 18 points and 11 rebounds, both game highs. But she had no help, as no other Mountain Hawk managed more than seven points.
As might be expected for the first game of the year, the Bears weathered some sloppy play, committing 13 turnovers. Their lack of timing may also have contributed to getting seven shots blocked.
“I just think that the middle was so congested that it was a bit tough for me,” said Brandon. “I should have made better decisions in passing the ball out and driving rather than trying to force it.”
But the Bears made up for their miscues by creating 12 steals and 18 turnovers overall. Senior guard Eliza Pierre had three steals to go with five rebounds and her game-high six assists.
Most of the steals came as the result of a hounding press that Gottlieb applied in the first half, when the Bears put the game out of reach. Cal's pressure flummoxed Lehigh, and the Mountain Hawks were held scoreless for over six minutes to open the game.
A three by Marybeth Egan broke the seal, but that would be Lehigh's only field goal until the 7:40 mark. By that time, the Bears had built a 29-7 lead, and the game was never in doubt.
Cal held the Mountain Hawks to 24% shooting (six of 25) as the Bears built a 44-20 half-time margin. Cal had 34 of those points in the paint; 14 were off turnovers, and 18 second-chance points. In other words, Cal basketball.
With the big lead in hand, Cal worked on its execution in the second-half, and the results were less than satisfactory for its head coach.
“I feel like we are always going to start the game thinking that we are going to out athlete people,” said Gottlieb. “I think now we also want to out execute them. It's sustaining exactly what we want to do for 40 minutes. It's not about being perfect for 40 minutes. But it's this idea of being an elite team that does what we want to do for 40 minutes. We had some lapses in the second half. We gave up a couple easy baskets.”
Sophomore point guard Brittany Boyd then took the game into her own hands, looking for her shot both from the perimeter and by driving to the basket. In a five-minute span, Boyd took eight shots and scored nine points on a three pointer, two fast-break baskets, and three free-throws.
Gottlieb explained that with Boyd, there will always be a balance between providing structure and giving her talent free rein.
“I always feel with her that, and the same think with Gennifer, that they are so instinctual athletes that you don't harness them too much, you give them structure and then let them go as long as they are understanding of what we are trying to do,” said Gottlieb. “Absolutely Brittany understands what we are trying to do. Her growth has been tremendous.
We see it in more subtle things. In the first play of the game, we didn't know, we were going in blind, watching film on a team from last December, because they aren't usually on TV, I thought they might be man to man on a miss and zone on a make. On the first play I saw them doing sagging man and I called Brittany over to the sideline and before I could say anything, she called out ‘sagging man' and I was like, I have never been so proud of you that you recognized the defense. So she has really made a lot of strides.”
Cal spent the rest of game working on different combinations, playing all 10 players on the active roster.
“I thought that our depth was the main reason why we won 25 games last year because if someone had an off shooting night, it wasn't kind of crazy to expect someone else to step up,” said Gottlieb. “So we will probably use a pretty deep bench for as long as we can. That being said, obviously we want to work certain combinations and get kids in a rhythm as well but it's just something that we always do.”
However, Gottlieb never employed the much-anticipated “big line-up” of using three post players at once.
“We didn't use the big line-up and that was partly because they were sitting in a zone,” said Gottlieb. “They were running three shooters out there. I also wanted to get in minutes for some of the other guards, so it never felt like the right flow to do it. But we will use it.”
So, one game into the new season, the Bears demonstrated to the crowd how they have improved - and at the same time - how much room they have to grow.
“We were just talking in the locker room that it's a good thing that we beat a team by 30 points and we're thinking about the things in the second half that we could do better,” said Gottlieb. “But it was a good way to start. We'll take the win and move forward.”
- Cal's shooting numbers are similar to last season's averages. FG 43% (42% for last season); 3FG 30% (30%); FT 57% (61%).
- The Bears had a positive Assist-to-Turnover ratio (14 assists to 13 turnovers).
- Cal had a crowd of 3528 in attendance. Last season, only two home games drew a larger crowd: Stanford (7864) and Ohio State (3942).