With the win, Cal moves to 2-0 on the young season, while St. Mary’s falls to 1-2.
“I thought that this was a really good win for us,” said Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “Our journey this year is going to be a little different, and various challenges, and what we are looking to improve upon. I loved the balanced scoring, that’s how we can play.”
Five other Bears joined Jemerigbe in double-figures: Gennifer Brandon (14), Talia Caldwell (14), Brittany Boyd (13), Layshia Clarendon (12), and Reshanda Gray (11).
Despite the offensive efficiency, it was Cal’s team defense that stood out in this game. Cal forced 24 turnovers and held a solid St. Mary’s team to 31% shooting, including one of 11 from three-point land.
Gael leading scorer Jackie Nared had 13 points, well below her 18.5 average entering the game. Danielle Mauldin, who was on a 16.5 ppg and 13.5 rpg pace, was held to one point and three rebounds.
“I really liked the defensive effort from the whole group and thought that it was a big step forward for us,” said Gottlieb. “This is a good Saint Mary’s team that’s really going to contend in the WCC. They just came back from a good trip to the Northwest so we knew that it would be a challenge and I think we made a statement tonight just about us and how we intend to be this year. We want to be really good and I think that this was a step forward.”
Cal expected a tough challenge from neighboring rival St. Mary’s as the Gaels had already beaten Oregon (78-69) and narrowly lost to Washington (70-68) this season.
Once the game started, however, it was all Bears.
Brandon won the tip, and Brittany Boyd quickly converted on a drive. The Bears put on full-court pressure, and St. Mary’s seemed completely unprepared.
“That press, it’s called Silver,” explained Gottlieb. “We’ve been running our Black, which is a different kind of press, and we just put Silver in two days ago. We haven’t used it this year. It puts our post player on the ball, so all of a sudden, you have Gen Brandon on the ball in a trap with a guard, and then the other guards get to read and react. Our players bought into it, and they made it look great.”
A steal led to another Cal bucket, which led to more pressure, which led to another Gael turnover and a Cal score.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
St. Mary’s committed six turnovers without getting the ball past half-court. After two minutes, Cal had run out to a 13-0 lead, and the Bears had completely flustered their opponent.
The Gaels managed five shots in the first 7:40 of the game, hitting one field goal. For the half, they put up only 17 shots and committed 17 turnovers.
Cal, on the other hand, had 39 shots and hit 23 of them, en route to a 53-21 lead at the break.
“We just rattled them,” said Gottlieb. “And our players converted.”
“I think it started off with a steal,” agreed guard Afure Jemerigbe, who played with confidence. “It gave everybody a bunch of energy. I think that I fed off of that, and [the ball] felt good in my hands when I had it. I just was in a rhythm.”
The Gaels entered the game outworking their opponents on the glass by an average of 20 rebounds per game (58 to 38).
Well, those numbers were earned against some other Pac-12 teams, not these rebounding Bears. Cal outpaced St. Mary’s on the glass, 43-27. Jackie Nared had a team-high five rebounds; no other Gael had more than three boards.
“We knew from the scouting report that they were a good rebounding team, their guards are great rebounders,” said Jemerigbe. “The coaches made an emphasis that we should make sure that we box out. So yeah, we were aware of that, we tried to box them out a lot throughout the game. And we know that we are a good rebounding team.”
The rebounding advantage was probably smaller than it could have been, due to Cal’s hot shooting. Still, of Cal’s first 10 missed shots, the Bears corralled seven offensive rebounds.
Even with the game well out of reach by halftime, the Gaels continued to battle, reminiscent of the match-up in Moraga last fall. All the banging and pushing boiled over midway through the second half, culminating in a chest bump between Nared and Boyd. Nared was assessed a technical and Boyd was ejected from the game.
“The way I looked at it, and what we included in the scouting report, was that for Saint Mary’s, I imagine, this is a really big game for them,” said Gottlieb. “Coach Thomas is a great coach who likes to challenge his team against Pac-12 schools, but I’m sure they circled Cal on their schedule. We are ten miles away and it’s a big game for them. They play hard; we really appreciate that. I wasn’t surprised that they came out and were aggressive with us. I think if you’re in a deficit you are going to play even harder. Obviously you don’t want to get in any type of situation where there are technicals, but our players are always going to have each other’s backs and they are going to play hard and tough. We obviously didn’t want that to cross any lines, but that’s the way it went for a couple of minutes, and I thought we regrouped and finished really cleanly.”
Without Boyd, Cal continued to build on its lead, attacking inside with post-ups and drives. Cal would finish with a 60 to 18 advantage of points in the paint. Gottlieb was happy with the Bears’ sustained effort.
“I challenged the team, after Lehigh, to be even more energetic for forty minutes and to jump on teams and be able to assert our will and dictate play, and I thought they took that game plan and ran with it,” said Gottlieb. “I am really proud of our collective group. I thought that we started the game really well and we sustained it. It didn’t look quite the same in the second half; we didn’t force as many turnovers. But we actually held them to fewer points and I think that’s a sign of maturity with us that we can dig in and do what we need to do. “
* Gennifer Brandon led the Golden Bears with her second double-double in as many games, collecting 14 points and 14 rebounds.
* Junior guard Mikayla Lyles compensated for an off-shooting night from distance with an all-around game. She collected three rebounds, a steal, and a game-high five assists, repeatedly finding teammates inside for easy scores. Her only basket came on a putback near the end of the game, and the bench erupted.
* Justine Hartman had a solid game, looking markedly better than she did in the first outing, especially in the first half. Her teammates looked to set her up, and Hartman looked confident in hitting a couple of mid-range jumpers. “Justine works hard everyday,” said Gottlieb. “Justine missed two weeks of practice early on, so maybe that affected her rhythm and her timing early. She, as all of our players are, is going to continue to develop and get better, but I thought she got in a great flow tonight. She obviously has a tremendous skill set and I think she felt good, had good balance. She’s getting better everyday. Justine gives us a dimension that is a little bit different than the others and is really, really valuable, so I loved her minutes tonight.”
* Cal again finished with more assists (16) than turnovers (14).
* Gottlieb was asked about whether she is looking for walk-ons, considering how Cal plays full-out with only 10 players. Maybe, it was suggested tongue-in-cheek, she could find on campus a “double-double machine?” “You don’t think we have enough double-double machines?” Gottlieb parried. “I don’t have enough minutes for the players we have now! We have Brittany Shine in practice. We have a tremendous group of practice players. We feel good with the group we have. The way we’re able to balance it out is with practice guys. What I’m able to do—and I’ve actually talked with [men’s head coach Mike Montgomery] about this quite a bit, because he can’t do this, he can’t get guys on campus to challenge his starters--is that we can do our real rotations in practice. So I never go us against us. I go first group on, second group on, mixing combinations, the small lineup, the big lineup, so it actually works really well.”
* Regarding Cal’s press, Gottlieb added a note of levity: “Our press is called Silver, but as much as [Sports Illustrated's] Mike Silver—who’s a friend of mine and Cal grad—would like to claim, it’s not named after him.”
* The attendance was 917.
* Senior guard Layshia Clarendon was named to the 2012-13 Naismith women's early season watch list, the Atlanta Tipoff Club announced Thursday. Clarendon, who is also a Senior CLASS Award candidate, is one of 50 candidates for the Naismith award.
* The Bears announced the signing of four class 0f 2013 recruits: Mercedes Jefflo (Compton, CA), Kendall Waters (Oakland, CA), Courtney Range (Stockton, CA), Hind Ben Abdelkader (Bruxelles, Belgium). Cal is also expected to welcome junior transfer Kyra Dunn (Pitt).