The No. 7 California Golden Bears found another way to win, coming back from 16 points down to edge No. 20 Colorado, 59-56. Cal overcame frigid shooting in the first half and once again used their defense to pull out the victory.
“I told the team in the locker room that even though this
certainly wasn’t one of our prettiest, it’s one of the wins that I think that I
am most proud of and that I will be most proud of for a long time,” said
California head coach Lindsay Gottlieb.
“We had thirteen people, including the redshirts, including Tierra
[Rogers], and everyone on the bench locked in the entire time. Colorado is really good. We have been on a stretch of playing really
good teams, this is what we wanted in the Pac-12, and I think this really
speaks just to our resolve and believing that we can win any which way.”
Layshia Clarendon and Gennifer Brandon each scored 13 to
lead the Bears, and Brittany Boyd had 10. Brandon also had 11 rebounds, and the
Bears won the battle on the glass (47-39) between the top two rebounding teams
in the league.
“We showed that we could go down to the wire with a pretty
good team,” said Colorado head coach Linda Lappe. “We’re not satisfied with the
outcome, but I liked how we played the game, the things we did during the course
of it. You have to credit Cal. They took it at us. They rebounded the ball
really well. They were extremely physical, and got a lot of the fifty-fifty
balls that we needed to get tonight.”
Cal improved to 16-2 overall and remains tied for first (6-1)
in the Pac-12.
Colorado fell to 15-3 (4-3 Pac-12). Brittany Wilson scored
11 for the Buffs, and Chucky Jeffery had 10.
Colorado played great team basketball to open the game as seven
players scored within the first 12 minutes and the Buffs ran out to a 24-10
lead. Colorado ran off screens and found open spots all over the floor, and the
Buffs did not miss much, hitting over 60 percent of their shots.
“Offensively, that was the key,” said Lappe. “We moved the
ball. We got ball reversals, we set screens, we got to the rim, we hit outside
shots, and we pushed tempo on offense. We were kind of in a zone; we were
comfortable on offense. When teams are comfortable on offense, good things
happen, and you score baskets.”
On defense, Colorado packed it inside, and with Cal’s guards
unable to buy a basket, the paint remained congested. The Bears began to chuck
up ill-advised attempts, making things worse on offense. Cal would shoot a
near-season-low 22.9 percent for the half.
Cal tried to push the pace to loosen things up and gain some
energy, but the Bears did not hit those shots either. The Bears gambled with
its pressure defense, but Colorado beat it with hustle and tenacity and
repeatedly found players under the basket.
The lead would grow to 32-16, with about four minutes left
to the half, when Lexy Kresl hit a jumper after using a pump fake to take
advantage of Cal over-anxious defense.
Cal began its comeback. Mikayla Lyles hit a baseline jumper
off of a fastbreak. The Bears’ hustle and aggressiveness started to pay off,
earning multiple shots at the basket and trips to line. Unfortunately, the
Bears still couldn’t hit capitalize, missing four free throws alone during this
stretch. Cal would end the game hitting 13 of 28 shots from the foul line.
Still with Colorado’s offense finally slowing down, when Eliza
Pierre hit a desperation three with the clock winding down, the Bears had
pulled within 32-24 at the half.
“At around 3:35 left to go in the first half and we were
down by sixteen, I said that we needed to get it to under ten,” said Gottlieb. “And that’s when we started the press and
it’s not that we got a steal and a score every time, but I thought that we
changed the energy. So what I told them
at half time, is that the way that we played that last four or five minutes, we
have to play that way from the jump. But
also, I tried to give them confidence in that Colorado wasn’t going to stay
that hot, but at the same time we need to make changes too and not give them
As the second half started, Colorado’s Rachel Hargis got
called for an offense foul, a good sign for the Bears, who struggled so much in
first half to fight through the Buffs’ screens. But Cal couldn’t do much to
take advantage for the first few minutes, matching Colorado’s turnovers.
Cal’s three posts took turns crashing the offensive glass,
and Reshanda Gray finally scored to pull Cal within 34-26 and brought the crowd
to a roar.
Jeffery responded, but Brandon beat everyone down the floor
for a bucket, and Gray scored again and a turnaround over a double team.
Clarendon found her range, scoring the next two buckets.
All in all, the Bears had an 18-2 run that spanned the two
halves, and Cal pulled even at 34, with 14:45 to go.
Chucky Jeffery posted up on Pierre down low to put Colorado
back ahead. A three by Jen Reese pulled the Buffs ahead 39-34.
Cal hit Colorado with an 11-2 run, with Brandon scoring
eight of those, including four straight free throws. Bears 45-41. Cal enjoyed a huge advantage in free-throws,
going to the line 20 times more than Colorado.
Colorado pushed back behind scores from Jeffery, Reese, and
Arielle Robertson. With 3:45 to go, the game was knotted up at 54.
“They came back, and they got up, and we didn’t fold,” said
Jeffery. “We kept fighting. There’s nothing more that we can ask. It was fun.”
Brittany Boyd then put her stamp on the game. Clarendon
fumbled the ball and instead of a turnover going the other way, Boyd beat
everyone to the ball, picked it up and decisively drove to the hoop for a
score. A few plays later, she lunged out of bounds to save the ball, flipping
it back over her head. Boyd then jetted back down the court, and Clarendon
found her for a lay-up, giving Cal a 58-54 edge with 2:11 left.
“I was like, ‘Okay, just go get it,’” said Boyd. “I was just running the floor, trying to get
back on defense and I saw that it was far enough in bounds to save it, so I
just threw it back hoping that one of my teammates was there. And Gennifer [Brandon] was fortunately enough
was there and then that’s when our break went and I just ran back down the
floor again and I got an opportunity for a layup. I didn’t really expect the
ball back. I just saw that I had a wide
open lane and Layshia [Clarendon] saw me and no one was guarding me so I just
attacked the rim.”
“I think that’s one of my favorite things about this team,”
said Clarendon. “It’s that you have anyone who can step up and make those kinds
of plays. I was going to give her the
ball right back. You can see it, when
you make a play and then you are running up and down the court, it’s like I
knew that she wanted it and it’s just that kind of momentum.”
Jen Reese responded inside to pull Colorado within one
score. Both teams failed to score for
the next few possessions, and with 35 seconds left, Colorado called a time-out.
On the next play, Roberson drove the baseline, but Cal was ready, and Brandon
blocked the ball and grabbed the rebound.
Clarendon split free-throws, and Colorado had one final
chance, but Brittany Wilson’s three-point attempt fell well short, and the
Bears escaped with the victory.
“I do think that we were exposed in the things that can tend
to be our weaknesses one at a time and they kind of all came up at once. And Colorado is really good and they are
going to make you pay, but I love the fact that we hung in there. I knew shots
would eventually fall. I thought the
team stayed locked in and we changed it to our style. I thought Eliza Pierre really started that in
the first half and I thought everyone else fed off of that. I love how Brittany [Boyd], even after she
picked up that third foul, stayed engaged and then changed it when she came
back in because no one can stop her in transition. So I thought it was a great team win, not the
prettiest, but a really, really good team win.
And in conference play when you face unbelievable teams like Colorado,
to not have a loss on one of your imperfect nights says a lot about the young
women that I am fortunate to coach.”
“Eventually I knew that we were going to knock down shots,”
said Boyd. “And I believed my teammates on the bench who were just telling us, ‘Keep
on going, keep on going, and what are we playing for? We’re playing for the Pac-12 championship.’
And they just kept on reminding us of that and I felt that that just motivated
us and that gave us an extra lift. And
then once we saw someone make a play, then it just went from there and
everybody started making plays.”