Bears Close Out Cardinal, 63-53

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By Viet Nguyen, Staff Writer
Posted Feb 22, 2015
If by BearInsider Staff or Contributor, this article is Copyright © 2015 BearInsider.com


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The California Golden Bears closed out the game strong, outplaying Stanford down the stretch to earn a 63-53 victory over the Cardinal. †The Bears were the more aggressive team throughout the game, playing tough defense and hitting eight threes.


“I got emotional in the locker room, which is not that uncommon,” said Cal head coach Lindsay Gottllieb. “Not because I am surprised that we won, but because it’s hard to lose a couple days ago and make three shots in the second half. You wonder, and you question. Our players are just the most resilient people I know. They came out today, in a similar situation—we had some droughts, and we didn’t score, and they just got tough.”

“Cal played a great game,” said Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer. “They knocked down shots when they needed to. Going eight for 19 from free is not something they did last weekend.”

Cal is not 20-7 on the season, while Stanford is 20-8, with both teams at 12-4 in the Pac-12.†

Cal played a team game, with contributions up and down the roster. Sophomore Mercedes Jefflo had twelve points, while freshman Mikayla Cowling had nine, to keep the Bears afloat in the first half.

But in the second stanza, it was Cal’s senior stars who took over. Reshanda Gray scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while fellow senior Brittany Boyd had 12 points and a game-high 13 boards. Gray had two points at the half, while Boyd was held scoreless in the first 20 minutes.

“These two right here, I just want so badly for this season to end the way they want it to,” said Gottlieb about Gray and Boyd. “They’re tremendous leaders; they’re winners. It’s just amazing; their growth is amazing. Stanford put four, maybe five people in the paint to guard Reshanda and stop Brittany from getting to the rim. I know Tara, she’s such a good coach, she’s going to say, ‘Anyone but these two.’”

“It didn’t feel that I was scoreless [in the first half],” said Boyd. “I was more so looking for my teammates, getting them involved.† I know that other people would step up. One thing that was important in this game was to rebound the ball. Reshanda needs help down there. When there are four people in the paint, someone is not boxing out the guards on the perimeter, so my job was to get us extra possessions and limit Stanford’s extra possessions.”

“We were consistent and played hard the whole 40 minutes,” said Gray.

Stanford was led by Brittany McPhee’s 24 points and a team-high six rebounds. McPhee, who gave Stanford a spark in the Cardinal’s win at Cal earlier in the week, made 10 of 16 shots and abused the Cal defenders all day. Amber Orrange had 11, but the rest of the Cardinal team was stymied by Cal, as the Bears forced 17 turnovers.

“We had a great effort from Brit and Amber,” said Van Derveer. “We weren’t as aggressive as we needed to be. We turned it over too much.”

Cal was focused from the tip.

Mikayla Cowling grabbed an offensive rebound and scored off glass for the game’s first points. After a three from Mercedes Jefflo, Cowling hit a jumper from the free-throw line to give Cal the 7-3 lead.

Stanford lived from beyond the arc, hitting three treys for its first points in the game. Bonnie and Karlie Samuelson had one each, while Wednesday’s hero Brittany McPhee pumped in another to tie the game at nine.

California responded with its own outside game, showing off great ball movement, as Courtney Range, Cowling, and Jefflo each hit one from distance On the other end, Cal’s defense forced Stanford deep into the shot clock time again. Jefflo’s three extended Cal’s lead to 18-9, with 12:39 until the break.

Stanford adjusted, utilizing their big wings to post up inside against Cal’s smaller guards or to drive against Cal’s posts.† McPhee started things off with a score down low, and consecutive lay-ups by Taylor Greenfield and Karlie Samuelson closed the gap within a basket, 18-15.

Cal went cold from distance, and Stanford edged closer, with McPhee taking over, showing off her clever moves and footwork to score four baskets in a row for the Cardinal. It helped Stanford's cause that Gray was on the bench with two fouls. Lili Thompson’s pull-up finally gave Stanford the lead, 25-24, at the 3:41 mark. McPhee scored once again, notching her 15th point of the half.

After a time-out, Cal found Penina Davidson open in the corner, and Davidson’s three knotted the game at 27.

“We didn’t give up,” said Gray. “We have other great players who work hard just as much as I do, and I’m very proud of them for stepping up, like Penina, for coming off the bench and hitting a big three.”

On the other end, Gabby Green blocked Karlie Samuelson’s shot and then tried to save it while falling out of bounds, but the ball found Erica McCall underneath, and she laid the ball in, and Stanford had the 29-27 lead at the break.

Gray scored twice inside to open the second half, giving Cal back the lead, 31-29, but then picked up her third foul and went to bench with 18:53 to go. Boyd also picked up her second and third fouls in quick succession, but stayed in the game.

With their offense stagnating, Stanford again went to McPhee, and her two free-throws knotted the game again at 31.

Cal played their big line-up, with Jefflo at the point along with Gray, Davidson, Range and Cowling. The Bears found Gray inside, and she responded with three points to keep Cal ahead.

Stanford scored twice inside, and Boyd quickly returned to the game. The Bear point guard hit a corner three for her first points of the game.

“We had to do the things that were important for us to win,” said Gottlieb of her team’s approach in the second half. “Ball movement—I didn’t tell them we had to get Reshanda her shots or for Brittany to hit threes.† We just said move the ball and get to the best shot.”

Amber Orrange hit her own three for her first points of the game in response, giving Stanford the edge once again.

But unlike their recent pattern of allowing teams to go on huge runs in the second half, the Bears dug in.†

Cal amped up its defense, forcing three consecutive turnovers. Jefflo stole the ball and took it herself coast-to-coast, scoring on a step-through, 39-38.

“We talked about not giving up defensively when we weren’t not scoring, because that’s what happened that last time,” said Gottlieb. “I am really proud of our players’ mindset. They didn’t go anywhere but forward and said next play.”

"They have some athletic, long kids," said VanDerveer. "We were not able to run things as well as we wanted to."†

Boyd earned a second chance for the Bears with an offensive rebound, and then hit a three, giving Cal the 42-38 lead and forcing a Stanford time-out with just under 10 minutes left.

Another offensive rebound by Boyd led to another three by Jefflo, and Cal’s lead was 45-38.

McPhee once again came to Stanford’s rescue, hitting a corner three and another basket down low, pulling the Cardinal within 45-43, with 7:39 left.

Orrange scored on a drive, tying the game. Boyd returned the favor on the other end. Another drive, and this time Boyd earned a trip to the line, hitting a free-throw, as Cal maintained a 48-45 lead.

Another shot clock violation by Stanford, and Cal got itself to the line, with Jefflo splitting free-throws.

Orrange hit a drive to beat the clock, and on the other end, Cal missed multiple opportunities inside. Gray finally got herself to the free-throw line, hitting both free-throws, restoring Cal to the two-possession lead, 51-47.

"I had no doubt that Reshanda would hit both free-throws," said Gottlieb.†

Orrange and Boyd once again traded baskets, and Gray fought through another double team to earn another free-throw. 54-49 Cal, with 2:44 left.

Jefflo hit a pull-up off glass at the buzzer, and Cal’s lead grew to 56-49. Stanford called time-out with 1:52 to go.

After another Stanford miss, Gray grabbed the board and was fouled. She hit both free-throws on the double-bonus. Repeat and rinse on the next sequence, and Cal extended its lead to 60-49 with 1:20 to go.

Orrange hit a lefty drive, and Boyd hit a free-throw on the other end. Gray split a pair of free-throws as well.

McPhee hit another shot with 35 seconds to go, wrapping up her career night, but it was too little too late. Jefflo closed out the game with another free-throw, and Cal earned a split in the regular season series with the Cardinal.

“We had a group that was totally locked in today, positive the whole time, refusing to lose,” said Gottlieb. “We got the big shots when we needed. This is Cal basketball, Cal freaking basketball. This is what it looks like. It’s not perfect, but it’s tough, hard-nosed kids who want to win and do the right things and get better each game.”

NOTES:

Stanford had 17 turnovers and only had three free-throw attempts (hitting two).† “We turned them over the other day, so I don’t think there is an answer for that, for them to fix the game plan in two days,” said Gottlieb. “I credit our players. [Gray and Boyd] came in ballers, ready to go. They are also now incredibly smart basketball minds. We’re watching the film, and they take ownership that defensively they were the two who had the most improvement to make. They did. They made the whole team go, defensively.”

The win is Gottlieb’s 99th as the Cal head coach. “You don’t think about numbers,” said Gottlieb. “You think about experiences. You think about affecting people’s lives. I just believed in Cal Basketball.”

The win also secure Cal a top-4 seed and a first-round bye in the upcoming Pac-12 tournament.

Regarding Gottlieb’s comment about being emotional, Reshanda Gray took the opportunity to give her coach a hard time: “It used to be worse than this, “ Gray said, evoking laughter in the room. “But me and Brittany made her build up her shell a little bit. She had to toughen up. She can’t cry after after every game. We only gave her special games. And today was one of those special games.”

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