The No. 5 California Golden Bears, winner of 16 in a row coming into the game, played their worst half of the year and suffered a 70-58 loss to No. 14 UCLA. The Bears fell behind by 22 points in the first half and were never able to recover.
“I credit UCLA,”
said Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “They're a terrific team. They're in the top 15 for a reason, and I
thought they brought all their strengths to the forefront tonight. They came out ready, and they were really
Markel Walker led the Bruins with 23 points, and third-seeded
UCLA put everything together to pull the first upset of this year’s Pac-12
UCLA did whatever it wanted on offense, sharing the ball and
collecting 17 assists.. Alyssia Brewer had 14 points, Antonye Nyingifa had 12,
and Jasmine Dixon had 15 points. But it was UCLA’s defense that destroyed the
Bears, as the Bruin frontline anchored a tough UCLA zone that Cal could not
solve. The Bruins also became only the second team to beat Cal on the glass,
41-36, led by Dixon’s 12.
Cal (28-3) finally came to life in the second half, but by
then, it was entirely too late. Brittany Boyd had 18, and Layshia Clarendon
Third-seeded UCLA had been swept by the Bears in the
conference season, but the Bruins were the team that showed confidence from the
UCLA stole the tip and established their presence
immediately, as Markel Walker beat everyone down the floor for an easy lay-up.
Cal alternated committing turnovers trying to get into the
paint or missing long jumpers. Four different players scored for the Bruins,
and Cal fell behind 8-2.
UCLA forced Cal’s offense into the quarter-court, and the
Bears struggled, with only Clarendon seeming able and willing to pull the
The Bruins repeatedly beat Cal down the floor, and the Bears
seemed confused and were often out of position.
“I just felt like they wanted it more,” said Reshanda Gray,
who had four points and three boards off the bench. “They were more prepared
than we were.”
“For myself, going
into paint, finding open lane and making lay‑up, it was so packed in, and there
was nowhere I could drive or ditch to nobody,” said Brittany Boyd. “So I just
credit their defense. Their defense was
the key to this game.”
“They went zone,
and we missed our first couple shots,” said Gottlieb. “And I think that was an issue for us. Then the way that we missed shots, the long
rebounds let them get out in transition, and that was just disastrous. So I think the difference was missing early
shots and them converting those to lay‑ups.”
Antonye Nyingifa’s steal and resulting free-throws put UCLA
up 16-6. The Bruins were quicker to every loose ball, collecting more rebounds
and executing more efficiently on offense.
“I thought they
pushed the ball well,” said Gottlieb. “It poses problems when they can have
three or four different people pushing the ball up the floor. They will have Markel Walker or Atonye Nyingifa
push it up, and it bothered our transition defense. And I thought we let them kind of cut behind
us a little bit, and get more interior play than what we want them to. So we
weren't surprised that that's what they're looking to do. But I thought we had a hard time getting
stops we wanted because we were letting them go in transition a little bit. And they just played well.”
Cal’s best option offensively was launching and missing a
three at the end of the shot clock.
UCLA’s three leaders—Alyssia Brewer, Markel Walker, and
Antonye Nyingifa—dominated. The Bruins played great team ball, utilizing
screens and cuts to burn a desperate and overplaying Cal defense.
Unable to get anything going on either end, the Bears showed
panic for the first time this year. They faded away on their jumpers and did
not finish the few shots they had inside. Time and again, a steal by Cal became
a turnover going the other way. After yet another score by Walker, who abused
Cal’s guards inside, Bear players turned towards the bench, their faces
confused and searching for answers.
“They came out more aggressive than what we’ve seen from
them,” said Talia Caldwell about the Bruins. “I think we were shell-shocked,
unfortunately, and did not respond.”
At the half, the game was effectively over. UCLA had outplayed
Cal in every way, including taking away Cal’s strengths: outscoring Cal in the
paint 22-6 and outrebounding the Bears 20-13. And of course, the Bruins were a
torrid 56% from the field, while Cal was a paltry 20%. UCLA led 35-14.
UCLA hit five of its first seven attempts coming out of the
break, including two consecutive baskets by Mariah Williams, extending the lead
Cal finally showed some fight, starting with Talia Caldwell
inside. Caldwell hit two free-throws to finally break the 20-point barrier for
Cal. Then she fought hard inside for multiple offensive rebounds and retain
possession, resulting in a Brittany Boyd three.
“I'm proud of how
our team fought back in the second half,” said Gottlieb. “I thought there was
no quit in us. I thought we did a lot of
things better in the second half. But the
hole was just a little bit too deep, especially against a team as good as
“This team never
stops believing for one second that we're fighters,” said Clarendon. “We didn't
come this far—we didn't come back from 17 against Oregon State, beat USC in
overtime, go play Duke, all of these games, without fighting now. It's
character. We've got to keep fighting,
and we never let people change who we are.
We're always going to fight and bring energy. We're always going to stay true to our
Markel Walker responded with an alley-oop tip in and a steal
that led to a Kari Korver score. But the Bear press began to pay dividends, and
Cal looked for early offense. Another Boyd three, a one-on-two fastbreak basket
by Clarendon, a Reshanda Gray free-throw, and another Clarendon three, and Cal
crept to within 49-33, prompting a time-out by Close.
Cal traded scores with UCLA, and Clarendon’s three kept Cal
at 57-42. But Dixon returned from the bench, and playing with four fouls,
outfought everyone inside for consecutive scores. Her putback of a Nirra Fields
miss with just over three minutes left put an exclamation mark on the game for
the Bruins. On this night, UCLA was tougher, quicker, and better than the
“UCLA came out as if they had a chip on their shoulder, like
they had nothing to lose,” said Gennifer Brandon. “We were kind of back on our
heels. I don’t know if we were shocked by how aggressive and hard they were
playing. I kind of believe that our comfort in the wins that we had… Probably we
were a little complacent maybe? I’m not sure why we came out as slow as we did.
But kudos to UCLA for coming out strong and hard.”
“We have to use
this to help us, and we will,” said Gottlieb. “I'm confident in the leadership
our team and players and staff that we have.
I do think one thing we'll talk about is, hey, we can never feel
comfortable. We played really well
against USC, and there should be a confidence level from playing well. But I
think this will help us to say at any moment, whatever team is in front of us,
we have to be really sharp. We could
face a team like UCLA in the second round of the NCAA Tournament if we make it
past the first round or we could face someone in a round after that. So I think
it will help us to kind of make sure and keep us on edge that we're never
“This is definitely a lesson,” said Gray. “This is going to
make us more hungry.”
“We got hit tonight,” said Caldwell. “So we’re going to see
this on film, and hold on to this feeling, and play harder and better next
The Bears now have a long break before playing in the NCAA
Tournament. Gottlieb believes that her team still is deserving of a high seed.
“I think what the
Pac‑12 has wanted all along are really good teams,” said Gottlieb. “So when we
beat one another, it looks like a great win.
This should be a great win for UCLA and help their resume. For us, it doesn't hurt you. I look across conferences today, Maryland
lost to UNC and Tennessee lost to Texas A&M, and it's same kind of
differential. I think our body of work
is pretty good that I think we could have help ourselves in this tournament, and
had we won it maybe we could have gotten a 1 seed. But I hope this kind of keeps us where we
would be otherwise.”
The NCAA Selections will be revealed on March 18.