Bears go to 10-1 after downing Colonials

Share

View Small TextView Normal TextView Large TextView Extra Large TextPrinter-Friendly Article

By Ted Lee
Posted Dec 28, 2012
If by BearInsider Staff or Contributor, this article is Copyright © 2014 BearInsider.com


News Image
Talia Caldwell/photo by Michael Burns (GoldenBearSports.com)

And now the fun starts.

After demolishing George Washington 70-43 with an overwhelming defensive display, the Bears complete the nonconference part of their schedule with a 10-1 record, but now look ahead to the start of Pac-12 play in one of the more difficult stretches that any team in college basketball will face all year.

Next week, Cal opens with road games at Utah and Colorado, and then get to finish their three-games-in-five-day stretch with a home game at Stanford the following Tuesday. The way the conference schedule is structured this season, the Bears then have to host Stanford five days later.

That's four games – three on the road - against three teams, with a combined record of 30-1, and two against the top-ranked team in the country.

“We tried to prepare them the best we could with our nonconference schedule,” said Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “This team has the highest basketball IQ of any team that I've coached. When we get on the plane to Utah, we've flown to Northwestern. When we have to drive to Colorado, we've been on the bus from Old Dominion to Duke.”

The Colonials, who leave Berkeley with a 6-5 record, closed to within 11 in the second half, but the Bear defense eventually wore away a George Washington offense that at times was struggling just to find shots, holding them scoreless for a 9:27 stretch of the second half, during which Cal outscored them 20-0.

Talia Caldwell, who led all scorers with 19 points, scored 11 of them in the first half as the Bears took a 39-22 halftime lead. Cal was sparked by their defense, which blended in a little bit of trapping, a lot of help, and loads of pressure.

Even though the Bears were up 17, they still weren't as sharp as they've been at times this season.

“We talked at halftime and even though we had a 17-point lead, it didn't feel like we were controlling the game,” said Gottlieb. “We had too many lulls, a couple of calls went against us and we needed consistency with our demeanor and effort.”

George Washington's early strategy was to dump the ball into their 6-foot-5 center Sara Mostafa. She scored two field goals early and had four field goal attempts in the the first 2:43. The Bear defense subsequently clamped down on her, and while foul trouble contributed somewhat, she ended up with only two more field goal attempts for the rest of the game.

But just when it seemed that the Bears were going to coast to an easy victory, they came out flat in the second half, and a few quick baskets allowed the Colonials to pull within 11 at 41-30.

“They have a good feel and understanding that when you're not a good flow offensively the thing is to dig in on defense,” said Gottlieb. “You can still dig in and you can still communicate.”

Yet by the time the 14 minute mark in the second half rolled around, the Bears had managed just four points, just one field goal. The Bears were shooting 1-of-9 from the field and had six turnovers up to that point in the second half. Cal clung to a 12-point lead, but unless something changed in a hurry, the Colonials were well-positioned to cut into that lead even more.

But then the Bears had one of their best defensive stretches of the season.

Cal forced George Washington into 0-for-12 shooting from the field, six turnovers, and the Colonials also missed two free throws to help matters.

“It all goes back to their pressure,” said George Washington head coach Jonathan Tsipis. “They went from a 1-2-2 to a 2-2-1, which we we broke a decent amount of time, but eventually it took our energy.”

A big part of the defensive proceedings was backup guard Eliza Pierre. Although she didn't score in 23 minutes, she caused George Washington players all sorts of problems, whether it's harassing players into shooting air balls; wreaking so much havoc on an inbound play, the intended target ran away to create separation, yet the passer ended up throwing the ball straight to Pierre; and even blocking two shots. It's a testament to Pierre's doggedness, that even as a 5-7 backup guard, she's second on the team in blocked shots.

“That's the great thing about this team,” said Layshia Clarendon, who finished the game with 12 points, seven rebounds and with 1,376 career points, now cracks Cal's top 10 scorers list. “You know that if you can score against Eliza, you can score against anybody, if you can block out Gen (Brandon), you can block out anyone.”

And sure enough, the offense eventually sparked. One key attribute of this year's team is that it's not heavily reliant on one or two scorers. Reshanda Gray came off to bench to score 11 points in 15 minutes; Brandon, who was her usual active self on the glass, scored 12 points even though she didn't really seem to establish a good rhythm, and even though Brittany Boyd, who came into the game as the team's leading scorer, struggled and finished with just seven points, she scored some key baskets in what eventually became a 20-0 run.

By that time, the Bears were up 63-32 with 4:49 left and the Bears were able to coast the rest of the way.

One concern facing the Bears will be their ability to attack zone defenses. Cal was successful in working the ball in to Caldwell and Brandon in the first half, but eventually the offense sputtered a bit, and when they could have used some outside shooting it wasn't there.

Coming into the game, Cal was shooting just 31.8% on three-point shots, and against George Washington, they were just just 1-of-11, with the made shot coming from Avigiel Cohen with just 30 seconds left.

Still, headed into conference play as a ranked team and with two shots at the top-ranked team in the country, all in all, things aren't looking too bad for the Bears.

“I always talk about us trying to be the best version of Cal basketball we can be,” said Gottlieb. “We have such a special group talentwise. We have a goals to win a championship, and that's with respect to the #1 team in the country. But that's the goal we set. We want to go as deep as we can in the NCAA Tournament. We want to go until somebody beats us. Last year we walked into Notre Dame and they beat us, I don't feel that we let it get away. We want to get to the point where the opposition has to give it everything they can to knock us off and I hope that's never.”

While Gottlieb is reluctant to do any sort of assessment of the team at this point of the schedule in terms of exceeding expectations, she does see areas where she's especially encouraged.

“I believe in this team because I see them every day,” said Gottlieb. “I think the balance is what I'm proud of. Multiple people in double figures is something I'm proud of. Sometimes we play through post, sometimes Layshia scores 28, that's the stuff we're excited about. Their mentality and them allowing me to raise the bar and them coming with me on that journey. We're not going to reach our goals if we stand still and they understand that.”

Notes...Cal opens conference play on Friday, January 4th at Utah at 5 p.m. in a game that will be televised on the Pac-12 Network. They then have to turn around and play at Colorado on Sunday morning at 11 a.m. Pacific time. The Tuesday game against Stanford will be played at Haas Pavilion, with a gametime of 7 p.m....Cal's 10-1 start matches the best start that they've had since the 1992-1993 season.

New to The Bear Insider?