Cal Edges USC, 63-56

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By Viet Nguyen, Staff Writer
Posted Feb 5, 2017
If by BearInsider Staff or Contributor, this article is Copyright © 2017 BearInsider.com


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California edged USC in a tense, close battle, finally pulling away in the final minutes of the game to win 63-56.


For the first 37 and a half minutes of the game, neither team could gain more than a four-point margin, and the lead changed hands 12 times.


"Huge win for us, huge weekend home sweep!" exclaimed Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb.


The Bears ultimately needed a team effort, especially on the glass, where they had a 35-25 edge, to pull out the game. Penina Davidson and Kristine Anigwe each had nine rebounds, and Davidson also led the team with 17 points, including a crucial three-point play with 2:27 to go as Cal finally took control.


"We don't win this game without a heroic effort from Penina," said Gottlieb.


Anigwe and Mikayla Cowling each had 10 points, while Asha Thomas contributed 14, including hitting both of Cal's treys in the game.


USC's Kristen Simon seemed to answer every Cal play with one of her own, notching 24 points and nine boards. No other Trojan hit double figures.


The Bears attacked right off, scoring their first four baskets in the paint. USC matched Cal's strategy, with Kristen Simon hitting down low.


Courtney Jaco's three gave USC the 9-8 edge five minutes into the game.


The two teams traded travel calls and errant passes interspersed with attempts at fastbreak basketball. A three by Asha Thomas and a USC free throw closed the quarter, with the score knotted at 13.


The second quarter continued with more offensive futility, with Cal's size and USC's quickness making their impact felt on defense.


Penina Davidson gave Cal a spark off the bench, hitting three shots in the paint to take advantage of USC's focus on Anigwe and giving Cal a 22-19 lead.


"Kristine has so much pressure on her, and then with AT hitting threes, it opens up the court right up‚" said Davidson.


On the other end, Cal struggled to contain Simon, who had 13 points in the first half to help USC keep pace.


Cal scored last, with a free-throw line jumper from Jaelyn Brown and another lay-up from Davidson earning the Bears the 28-25 advantage at intermission.


Simon continued to dominate, scoring twice inside and bottling up Anigwe, frustrating the Cal sophomore into picking up her second and third fouls.


Valerie Higgins knocked down a three to tie the game again.


Mikayla Cowling kept Cal ahead with her rim runs, scoring two fastbreak baskets, both assisted by Thomas. As they did against UCLA, the Bears worked to push the pace.


"Transition, we need to always do that," said Thomas. "I don't know why we've waited until the last two games. It's our bread and butter. That's how we get going."


Cal put CJ West in to match up with Simon, to spare Anigwe from further foul trouble. The freshman used her size effectively on defense and contributed a basket on the other end.


"CJ came in and played great minutes," said Gottlieb.


Neither team could make a run, and Cal ended the third up 45-44.


Asha Thomas scored a fastbreak basket to open the fourth, but the Bears squandered any possible momentum with sloppy play, and USC again edged ahead, 48-47, on another Simon basket.


Davidson returned to give Cal a boost, scoring inside. She then dove on the floor to earn a tie-up and a Cal possession, resulting in an Anigwe free-throw. With 4:55 to go, Cal was down 51-50.


Thomas hit a three to give Cal back the lead.


"AT, with all the pressure she handled, and she hit a big shot," said Gottlieb.


Simon's free-throw tied the game again at 53. On the play, Anigwe committed her fourth foul.


Then came the sequence that ultimately decided the game.


With just under three minutes to play, USC missed a three, and Cowling grabbed the long rebound and raced past everyone for the score. She was fouled and missed the free-throw, but Cal crashed the glass, earning two more shots at the basket. First, Davidson grabbed the rebound and the Bears worked the ball to Thomas, who missed a three. But Cowling came up the ball, and the Bears got the ball down low to Anigwe, who quickly shoveled the ball to Davidson. Davidson cashed in through contact. She hit the free-throw and the Bears completed the five-point trip, and Cal was ahead 58-53, with 2:27 to go. The five point margin was Cal's biggest lead since the first minute of the contest, when the Bears were ahead 4-0.


Neither team would score for the next 90 seconds, and with 52 seconds to go, USC sent Thomas to the line. The point guard split her free-throws, and Cal was up 59-53.


Cal played terrific deny defense, forcing a long heave from Minyon Moore at the end of the shot clock. Davidson rebounded the miss and attempted to pass the ball to Cowling. The ball fell out of bounds but was ruled last tipped by USC (confirmed by video review), and Cal retained possession.


Anigwe knocked down two free throws with 20 seconds to go to give Cal their biggest lead of the game 61-53. But on the next possession, Davidson fouled Jaco on a three attempt. Jaco hit all three from the line to pull USC within 61-56, with 15 seconds left.


Cal turned the ball over on the inbounding attempt, giving USC one last gasp. Tapley's three was short, and Davidson corralled the rebound. With seven seconds left, the junior hit both her free-throws to put the game away, and Cal escaped with their second nailbiter in a row.


"Basketball is so much more than just this play or that play, a big three or a big rebound; it's more about the mentality," said Gottlieb. "A couple of weeks ago, I said, This feels nothing like last year,' and it almost feels silly when the results don't show it. But now we are seeing that different group. I'm proud of the effort and the resolve."


The Bears now hope to build on this momentum and the favorable schedule, with the next three games also at home. First up is Utah, on Friday, February 10, at 6pm.


"We have great fans; Haas is the best home court in the Pac-12," said Gottlieb. "That said, every team in this conference is good. We have a team coming in next Friday night that beat us. It comes down to our work ethic and the ability to make plays."

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