Kristine Anigwe, coming off her 50-point performance, had 26 points. Penina Davidson and Courtney each contributed 16. Anigwe also had a game-high 10 rebounds.
“We’re happy to be where we are heading into finals,” said Gottlieb. “Certainly, because the record is good, but more importantly, I still think we can get better. They’re trying to listen to my messages and buying into what we’re trying to do. Again, you saw the balance in the offense. A lot of the scoring production came from the frontcourt, Nina, Kristine, Courtney, Chen. But the balance was seen in how well the guards distributed the ball.”
The Bears had 29 assists on 39 baskets and made 61% of their field goal attempts. Asha Thomas and Mi’Cole Cayton each had nine assists.
Lehigh (5-6) was led by Quinci Mann’s 23 points. The local product (St. Ignatius Prep, San Francisco) is averaging over 17 ppg for the Mountain Hawks.
A game after Kristine Anigwe was the focus, the Bears seemed determined to return to a more diversified offense.
On the first possession of the game, Lehigh played terrific defense, blanketing Cal for 25 seconds. But the Bears showed newfound patience, working the ball around, with every player getting involved, until Mikayla Cowling found herself open for a three. The junior promptly knocked down the shot.
Asha Thomas converted a steal into a one-woman fastbreak, splitting defenders on the way to the cup.
Penina Davidson, returning from a one-game absence due to illness, fought for position down low and earned two free-throws. Anigwe followed with two of her own.
When Courtney Range knocked down a wing three, all five starters had scored, and the Bears had a 12-1 lead three minutes into the game.
The Bears’ lead would grow to 18-1, before Bernadette Devaney hit a drive across the lane, Lehigh’s first basket of the game, with just under 4 minutes to go in the period.
The Mountain would manage only one more basket in the period, a three by Quinci Mann.
Anigwe fought through a triple team to put back her own miss as the buzzer sounded to give the Bears the 28-6 bulge after one.
Cal continued to attack at the start of the second period. Asha Thomas turned a rebound into another fastbreak, finding Mi’Cole Cayton with a behind the back pass. Cayton soon returned the favor, finding Thomas on the wing for an open three.
Playing freely, the Bears collected one highlight play after the next. Thomas found Cowling on an alley-oop, and the junior converted on the athletic play despite being shoved in the back.
The Bears began to overpass, trying to find the spectacular play instead of the high-percentage one, resulting in several turnovers.
Lehigh’s leading scorer, Quinci Mann, finally got untracked, contributing nine in the second period, including two more threes.
Anigwe returned to the game to assert her own brand of dominance, keeping her balance while being swarmed inside and hitting two baskets to get Cal back on track.
The Bears continued to focus inside, this time with Davidson doing the work. The forward was smooth, hitting two more baskets in the paint.
Cal entered intermission up 50-25.
Anigwe made four more baskets in the first four minutes of the second half, showing off footwork that is both decisive and flexible in countering whatever the defense could throw at her.
Asha Thomas, the smallest player on the floor, scored twice in the paint, and Cal’s lead grew to 62-29, with 5:36 to play in the third.
Mann scored five consecutive points as part of a 9-3 Lehigh run, and Cal called time to re-focus.
The Bears then called a play for Chen Yue, who just checked into the game for the first time, and the 6’7 center splashed a mid-range jumper.
The Mountain Hawks’ Devaney hit two consecutive threes from the corner.
Yue scored twice more, and Davidson put in five points to help the Bears keep pace.
Another three by Devaney closed the gap to 73-51 with 30 seconds left in the third. Instead of holding the ball for the final shot, Cayton pushed the ball and got deep into the paint before kicking the ball out to Courtney Range. Range was just inside the arc, so the senior took a step back before taking the shot. Her adjustment have her a three, and it also allowed the defender to close and knock her down. Range hit the free-throw to complete the four-point play, and Cal closed the third up 77-51.
A free-throw by freshman Jaelyn Brown got every Cal player into the scoring column, and Cal used the fourth period to experiment with various combinations.
“We want to continue to grow our mental toughness, which is about doing the best thing on the next play,” said Gottlieb. “So whether you’re up 20, up 10, down three, how do you get a stop? Just making us the toughest team, because come Pac-12, that’s what you need.”
“We’re fighting to play the best 40 minutes we can and even not look at the scoreboard. We did a better job of that today. Gave up too many points in two quarters, probably put them on the free throw line too many times, but overall, a pretty complete game. Our goals are shifting as we go, and now we want to win all of them.”
After finals, the Bears will play five games away from home. Cal will play three games in three days at the Las Vegas Tournament (12/19-12/21), including a clash with #19/20 Oklahoma. Then the Bears open the Pac-12 slate away, at Arizona (12/29) and at Arizona State (1/1).
· Chen Yue had eight points and hit all four shot attempts.
· The Bears shot well from beyond the arc, hitting six of 14 (43%). Courtney Range made three of her five attempts.
· Cal held Lehigh to 29.6% shooting (21 of 71), including 29% (nine of 31) from three.
· The game was in honor of the late Tennessee Lady Vols Head Coach Pat Summit and to raise awareness for The Pat Summitt Foundation and Alzheimer's disease. “I thought it was really meaningful to come together and play for Pat,” said Anigwe. Range concurred: “To know that once upon a time, women did not play basketball. We are now, and we are growing. This is the sport I love to play, and it has given me and our team the ability to show off our talent day-by-day, and it’s just a great feeling. I’m thankful to Pat.”