Last weekend, when California swept UCLA and USC, the Bears used good shooting and contributions across the roster. Tonight, the Bears fell victim to the same formula, losing to Utah, 73-64.
Malia Nawahine had 16 points, with 14 in the first half, when Utah (15-9, 4-9 Pac-12) built its lead. Tanaeya Boclair contributed 14. Erika Bean had twelve, and Emily Potter had 10 with 10 rebounds. Utah's remaining starter, Paige Crozon, had nine points. Utah knocked down 48% of their attempts, while Cal only managed 37%.
"They beat us today,"said Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. "Utah always plays us well. They were ready. I thought our effort was good; our preparation was good. They went on a couple of runs and they got us on transition and they made some threes that they haven't been hitting in the last couple of weeks. We fought but didn't have enough."
Mikayla Cowling had 16 points before fouling out, while freshman Jaelyn Brown had 10.
Cal falls to 17-8 (5-8 Pac-12). Instead of building on forward momentum towards a possible NCAA bid, the Bears took a step backwards, with their post-season prospects very much in doubt.
The Bears started the game well, earning a lead after the first 10 minutes.
Anigwe drove from the elbow past Potter for a score to open the game.
Tanaeya Boclair posted up Asha Thomas and then passed out of the double team to find an open Malia Nawahine, who hit a three. Emily knocked down a jumper and Utah led 5-2.
In the first five minutes, the Bears missed four shots and committed five turnovers, as Utah collapsed and swiped on every drive and post move.
Mikayla Cowling hit a three to tie the game, but Utah immediately beat Cal down the floor twice for lay-ups.
Cowling hit again on a pull-up, and Anigwe scored inside as the Bears took advantage of Potter taking a breather.ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Two Anigwe free-throws stretched the Bear lead to 13-9 at the two-minute mark in the first.
Jaelyn Brown gave Cal a lift off the bench. The freshman tracked down a missed Anigwe free throw to earn two of her own. She then raced ahead of everyone and hauled in a three-quarter court pass from Cowling and hit the basket, completing Cal's 9-2 run.
Two Potter free throws closed the quarter, with Cal up 18-13.
Cal created consecutive steals to start the second period, but could not convert on the other end.
Both teams focused on getting the ball into the paint. While Cal repeatedly turned it over on forced passes, Utah used better spacing to great success. The Utes tied up the game on Wendy Anae's jumper and then went ahead 24-22 on Daneesha Provo's fastbreak lay-up.
Kristine Anigwe pulled the Bears back ahead with a free-throw, a basket, and an assist to Penina Davidson. But the Bears' lead was short-lived, as Utah got untracked from distance, knocking down consecutive threes for the 32-27 lead with 2:39 before halftime.
Consecutive Cal defensive breakdowns resulted in scores for Utah, as Boclair hit a three and a lay-up, and the Utes had the 37-29 lead at intermission.
Cal committed 12 turnovers in the first half. And unlike recent games, when the Bears were able to compensate with good shooting, Cal only hit 36% from the field.
"They mix up their defenses; they play sort of a match up zone, and that bothers us," said Gottlieb.
Utah on the other hand, made 52% in the first two periods, including 60% (9 of 15) in second.
Mi'Cole Cayton stole the ball on the first possession but could not score on the fastbreak, with Erika Bean swatting the ball away. Bean then stole the ball and then scored on the other end, adding salt by converting a three-point play. Utah had their first double-digit lead, 40-29.
Cal battled back, starting with a floater in the lane by Thomas. Anigwe earned a trip to the line, and Utah compounded the problem with a technical foul on Utah head coach Lynne Roberts. Anigwe hit three of four free-throws.
On the next possession, Cayton stole the ball and this time made good on the basket, and Cal was within 42-38, with 6:17 on the clock.
Utah came right back, driving to the basket and exploiting Cal's slow rotations for five quick points.
"Credit to them: any time we cut it, they made a big play or hit a big shot," said Gottlieb.
Cal sped up play, with Cowling leading the way. The junior hit a nifty reverse, then converted a steal into a delayed break, finding Cayton for a basket. Davidson split free throws, and Brown hit floater, and Cal was suddenly in within 47-45.
Tilar Clark entered the game for Nawahine, who had four fouls, and the junior immediately knocked down a three for Utah, halting Cal's momentum. The Utes finished the third up 54-47.
Utah patiently worked the offense to find the mismatch and then waited for the double team. The Utes then found the open player for a corner three. On the next possession, with the Bears focused on shooters, Potter posted up inside and scored over Anigwe. Utah matched their biggest lead 59-48, with 7:22 to play.
Cal forced a 10-second violation but immediately gave the ball back. Neither team could score for the next two minutes, with Anigwe bottled up inside by Potter and company.
"She's 6'6, so that's always hard," said Anigwe. "She's very physical. She knows my moves, and she gets her hands up."
Cayton hit a three, only Cal's second of the game, but Utah responded with good ball movement and another inside basket by Potter.
"We didn't shoot well from three at all," said Gottlieb. "We did not get a lot of clean looks."
With four and half to play, Cal was down 61-51.
Cal's full-court pressure resulted in a Cowling steal and basket, but Utah calmly spread the floor and drove to the hoop, maintaining the lead. Even when the Bear defense held, Cal could not convert on the other end.
The Bears had one last gasp. With just under a minute to play, Anigwe hit both free-throws to draw Cal within 69-61. On the ensuing Utah possession, Cal forced a turnover in the backcourt, but all the Bears could manage was a well-defended missed three, and Utah turned that into a runout on the other end.
Gottlieb remains optimistic.
"It's disappointing, but not discouraging in terms of the big picture," said Gottlieb. "We had a good mentality the whole time. We were up early. We were locked in and trying, but they were just too good. This was not a mentality loss. This league is really good. [Utah] plays us well, and match-ups matter. We didn't get this one, but it was basketball plays and not mentality."
"We'll be ready to go Sunday. If we win on Sunday, then we are three of our last four, and there is a lot of momentum around that."
The Bears will take on Colorado on 2/12, at 3pm.