Bears Beat USC 71-58 in Pac-12 Tourney

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By Viet Nguyen, Staff Writer
Posted Mar 2, 2017
If by BearInsider Staff or Contributor, this article is Copyright © 2017 BearInsider.com


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No. 8 seed California beat ninth-seeded USC 71-58 to advance to the quarterfinal round of the Pac-12 Tournament. Kristine Anigwe had a game-high 34 points and 13 rebounds, as the Bears turned a two-point halftime lead into a big win.


"Sometimes you see growth over a long period of time, and sometimes it's minute to minute," said Gottlieb. "Our players understood at halftime what we needed to do, and they came out in the second half and did it under a lot duress. Kristine played like the best post player in the country. It's one of those games where we had Kristine and they didn't."


"We missed some defensive assignments," said USC head coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke. "We were supposed to trap her, and we let her get too deep in the paint."


Mi'Cole Cayton and Mikayla Cowling each had 12 points, with Cowling hitting all six of her free-throws down the stretch to hold off USC. Cowling also had a game-high seven assists.


"Our guards stepped up and didn't turn the ball over in the second half," said Gottlieb. "Mikayla was a leader and made the plays that we needed to make."


Cowling had five assists and only one turnover in the second half, when the game was decided.


USC was led by Kristen Simon, who had team-highs of 17 points and six rebounds, despite foul trouble throughout the game. Minyon Moore had 10 points, as USC struggled from the field, especially in the fourth (5 of 15).


As they did the last time the two teams played, Cal out-executed USC late, hitting eight of 11 shots (72.7%) in the fourth period to pull away.


Cal improved to 19-12, while USC ends its season at 14-16.


Anigwe set the tone early, getting deep on Cal's first possession.

 

Kristen Simon responded with a deep two.


The Bears committed three consecutive turnovers, and Simon scored again.


Cal kept in the game with their height and length inside, blocking three shots early. But as a result, the Bears also struggled to box out, giving USC multiple second-chance opportunities. Another score by Simon and a drive by Sadie Edwards, and USC had the 8-4 lead, four minutes into the game.


Mi'Cole Cayton scored consecutive baskets to keep Cal close.


Another strip by USC led to a Simon layup.


The sloppy play continued as the two sides traded turnovers and ill-advised shots.


Just as she did last time Cal played USC, CJ West gave the Bears a lift, hitting a basket and a free-throw to pull Cal within 12-11.


After two free throws each by USC's Ja'Tavia Tapley and Cal's Mi'Cole Cayton, the game was delayed, as the game clock was frozen and the arena scoreboard showed an incorrect score.


After a couple of minutes, the game resumed, but was whistled dead again after a couple of seconds, because the shot clock disappeared. It happened again, but this time the officials allowed the game to continue. USC could have held for the last shot, but missed with 10 seconds to go, giving Cal one final opportunity. Jaelyn Brown's shot was blocked, and the first period ended with USC ahead 14-13.


Simon hit another shot, and Minyon Moore scored on a driving layup to open the second and give USC the 18-13 lead.


Anigwe was fouled and hit the free-throw, but perhaps more important was that on the play, Simon picked up her second foul and soon went to the bench.


"There were some early fouls that made us tentative defensively against Kristine," said Cooper-Dyke. "It's tough to stop her once she gets into a rhythm."

 

Cayton continued her strong play, earning Cal two possessions on defense, including a steal and breakaway layup.


Anigwe scored inside, then hit two free-throws, each time pulling Cal within a basket. Cal had multiple opportunities to tie or pull ahead, but the Bears repeatedly threw the ball away, and USC soon re-established a 26-20 edge, after two free-throws by Courtney Jaco. A three by Dani Milisic, and USC threatened to pull away.


Mikayla Cowling hit a drive, and two Anigwe free-throws steadied the Bears.


Consecutive steals by Cowling leading to scores by herself and then by Brown, tied the game at 28, with 45 seconds to go and forced USC to call time.

 

Cal played great defense to force a late-clock heave by USC, which fell short and into Anigwe's hands. The sophomore was fouled, and with USC over the limit, went to the line. Her two free-throws gave Cal the 30-28 lead at intermission.


Anigwe scored on Cal's first three possessions in the third, the final one a three-point play, as the Bears grabbed their own nine-point lead, 37-28. Simon collected her third foul and sat.


"My team did a good job getting the ball to me," said Anigwe. "Mikayla had seven assists."


USC came right back. Sadie Edwards knocked down a three, Tapley hit a jumper in the lane, and Moore converted a Cal turnover into a layup. USC was within a basket, with 6:45 on the clock.

 

Anigwe scored inside to stop the USC 7-0 run. Another Anigwe three-point play gave Cal back some breathing room. However, the sophomore soon picked up her third personal, and both teams were without their best post player.


Cal's freshmen stepped up. CJ West scored on a smooth move across the lane. Jaylen Brown attacked the hoop, and then Cayton beat everyone down the court for a basket of her own. Cal led 43-34, with 3:29 on the clock.


After a USC time-out, the Trojans sent their quick guards to the hoop. USC scored six unanswered points with either layups for from the free-throw lines, aided by Cal's turnovers on the other end.


"The turnovers were an issue all game," said Gottlieb. "But USC is really good, so we knew that they would come back at us."


"We knew we had to attack," said USC senior Courtney Jaco. "We just didn't have that mindset for 40 minutes."


The quarter ended with Cal up 48-45.


Simon hit her first basket of the second half to open the fourth, and Anigwe matched her with a midrange jumper of her own.


Valerie Higgins hit a three from the corner, tying the game at 52.


The score was at 54 all when Cal went on another surge. Anigwe hit a three from up top. Cowling hit a deep two with the shot clock winding down. Cayton corralled the long rebound and on a two-on-one break with Thomas, faked a pass and then scored, and Cal was up 61-54, with 4:50 left.


After a time-out, Simon hit three of her own.


Cal went inside, as Anigwe scored again, and Davidson hit her first basket of the game.


USC converted a turnover into a Tapley free-throw. Anigwe committed her fourth foul on the play. Cal was up 65-58, with 2:45 to go.


"I thought Cal increased their focus and intensity, and we couldn't match them," said Cooper-Dyke. "In crucial moments, we couldn't hit shots. Hats off to Cal."


Cal, who has struggled all season to close out games, hung tough this time around.


"We had to take a deep breath, calm down, take control of the ball," said Cowling.


"We know that there is no second game; we have to win or we go home," said Anigwe. "We had to do whatever it takes to stay here."


Cal's offense got stuck as USC amped up the pressure, forcing Cal to burn two quick time-outs. But the Bears' hustle helped them retain the ball for over a minute burning valuable clock and hampering USC's comeback chances.


After a missed three from USC, the Trojans were forced to foul. Cowling hit six free-consecutive free-throws, closing out the game and sending the Bears on to the next round.


"I wanted to seal the deal," said Cowling. "I didn't want it to be a close game; we've struggled in the past with close games. I wanted to make sure that they didn't hit crazy threes or fouls that got them right back. I was confident, and it worked out."


Cal now moves on to face top-seed and Pac-12 champion Oregon State, against whom Cal played in the final game of the regular season. OSU beat Cal 71-56.


"The benefit of having just played them is that we have a really competitive group, and every time we lose a game, five minutes later, we want to go and run it back," said Gottlieb. "We know we have a lot to prove this tournament, and no better chance to do that than against the top team of the conference, to remind people that we are here too."


"They do a good job of making the game go at their pace," said Cowling. "We're a fast-paced team. Tomorrow we have to start out well. Play our game--Cal basketball style--and not succumb to what they want to do."


Cal tips off against Oregon State at 11:30 am.

 

 

NOTES:


Post-game, Cowling wanted to highlight Anigwe's three, bring it up while on the podium. "She hit it, and I was running back on defense: 'It's like THAT, girl? I guess it's like that!' I knew she was a really good player, but I didn't know she was capable of hitting threes like that. She can make anything in the post, but I guess she can make anything outside the post too."


Cowling said that the three loosened up the team.


"It's more of like, at that point we're laughing instead of being really tight," said Cowling. "Aggressive, but laughing, joking around. And we were able to flow with the game in a loose, positive way."


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