“Kansas is an excellent team,” said Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “They're so well-coached—I think Bonnie Henrickson is one of the best coaches around. They came in here and made a lot of shots. They made plays, played well and made it tough on us. Our players responded. This was a quintessential Cal win. Different people stepped up in different moments. We challenged them at different points to do things better, and I thought they all responded to that. That shows the growth of our team.”
Senior Layshia Clarendon scored 28 points to help Cal withstand every charge from a determined Kansas squad.
“Her pace and her ability to make a play one-on-one,” said Kansas head coach Bonnie Henrickson. “I thought she was really impressive. She had great offensive possessions for them. Both teams had really special point guards, and both teams had really good bigs. The difference-make was number 23.”
“Can’t be more proud of her,” Gottlieb said about Clarendon. “Layshia missed a couple of shots early, and I said to the staff, ‘Layshia is going to have to make some shots tonight,’ and all of a sudden, she goes 11 of 19. When the game is on the line, when big-time games are here, there’s not a guard better in the country at making big shots.”
Four other players joined Clarendon on double-figure scoring: Gennifer Brandon (17), Reshanda Gray (13), Talia Caldwell (12), and Afure Jemerigbe (10). Caldwell made all five of her attempts, as the Bears hit 55.4% (36 of 65) of their field goal attempts, compensating for a poor night at the free-throw line (12 of 24).
Kansas also shared the ball, with Angel Goodrich leading the way with 21 points. Fellow All-American Carolyn Davis put up 16, and Natalie Knight and Chelsea Gardner had 13 and 12 respectively. As a team, Kansas made half of their shots.
But as with most Cal’s opponents, the Jayhawks could not compete on the glass. No Jayhawk had more than five. By contrast, Brandon grabbed 10 rebounds for the Bears (9 in the second half), as Cal dominated the rebounding battle 40 to 27.
“We are just very fortunate to have post players that have tremendous instincts to the ball,” said Gottlieb. “They're relentless and love rebounding. It's really just a great kind of staple of our team. Once its' part of the identity, they really love it and own it. They take pride in it. I can't take any credit other than building them up and saying go get that ball.”
“Watching on film, and being here live, it’s who they’ve been all year,” said Henrickson of Cal. “Their effort on the offensive glass, and second-chance points. When we turned it over, they made us pay and pushed in transition and got hig-percentage shots.”
After four consecutive games away from Haas, the Bears got off to a slow start, falling behind 8-4 a minute and a half into the game. Kansas got two quick threes from Natalie Knight sandwiched around an inside score by Carolyn Davis. Considering that Knight came into the game shooting only 28% from distance, Gottlieb had to quickly burn a timeout.
“I didn’t think our press was as effective as it could be,” said Gottlieb. “We left her wide open, and she knocked them down. We knew we wanted to help off to discourage passed into the post, and then recover, but not to leave anyone wide open. So just to re-focus on getting defensive stops.”
Over the next three plus minutes, Cal went on 11-0 run. Talia Caldwell started things off by putting back a Brittany Boyd miss. A trey by Jemerigbe grabbed the Bears the lead at 9-8. Consecutive drives by Clarendon and Boyd and another lay-up by Caldwell brought Cal to a 15-8.
Kansas fought back. Carolyn Davis hit two quick baskets, followed by a Goodrich step-back three and a drive by Monica Engelman. With 9:48 left in the half, back up Chelsea Gardner’s putback tied the game at 19.
Cal pushed ahead, but Kansas would repeatedly close to within one possession, buoyed by good shooting, including four of five from beyond the arc. At the 5:15 mark, Davis hit a baseline jumper, and the Jayhawks again were threatening to take the lead, down only 32-12.
But the Bears closed the half on a 12-4 run, with Clarendon and Boyd taking turns scoring. For the half, Clarendon had 16 points, and Boyd’s eight helped stake Cal to a 42-35 lead.
Monica Engelman swished two jumpers and assisted on another basket to start the second half, and the Jayhawks pulled to with 48-46 on another three by Knight, with 2:18 elapsed in the second half.
“I thought their role players stepped up,” said Gottlieb, taking note of Engelman, Knight, and Gardner. “This team was in the Sweet 16 last year. They know how to win games, and it was a good test for us.”
Henrickson had a different perspective, thinking that her team did not look for Davis enough. “I thought that Carolyn really worked to try and get the ball. I thought we did not throw it to her enough. If I had the ball, I would have thrown it to her. I’ll probably throw up when I watch it, how many times we missed her.”
Brandon then intercepted a bad pass and took it herself three-quarters of the court on a one-on-three break, pulling up in the paint and knocking down a soft jumper. The play was emblematic of the whole game: Cal had a response every time Kansas threatened, often by using their superior quickness and athleticism to get high-percentage shots inside the paint. Cal would finish the game with a 64-30 advantage in points in the paint.
“I was just telling the girls, ‘Weather the storm,’” said Clarendon. “Talia kept telling us, ‘One stop at a time.’”
Still, Kansas was still within 65-62 with 8:18 to play. Cal made its final assault, again going inside. With both Chelsea Gardner and Carolyn Davis in foul trouble, Kansas had no answer.
“It killed us to have Gardner in foul trouble,” said Henrickson. “We wanted to play big-big against their big-big. We got production out of Chelsey, but just enough minutes.”
Jemerigbe had a great stretch, racing ahead on the fastbreak, and staying active even after missed shots to finish. Brandon and Gray also had their way inside, spinning around their defenders who knew they could not foul. And of course, when the Bears needed the dagger, Clarendon, who was able to create how own shot all night, simply dribbled down the shot clock and hit yet another jumper. It was impressive to watch the Bears methodically take over the end of the game. Cal’s largest lead of the contest (88-76) would come with 22 ticks left on the clock.
“I thought that was one the best games that we moved the ball, for a while,” said Clarendon, sharing the credit. “We got them to chase the ball a little bit in that zone. When you get moving, it’s hard to close out on quick guards like Afure, myself, and Boyd.”
“When you play a team of this caliber on the road, you’ve got to be able to limit a run, and to answer a run,” said Henrickson. “And we didn’t.”
Cal’s win was the first over a top-25 team at Haas since January 2009.
“Everything happens in the time it’s supposed to happen,” said Gottlieb. “We could have upset Ohio State last year, but it would have been an upset. We took care of Georgetown, a team that was floating in the top 25 for a little bit. Here, this felt like a game that we could win at home, and we got the job done. So it doesn’t seem bigger than that. It just seems that this is a team that has progressed in the way that I hope we would. It was a big time game in our gym, and we came out and did what we needed to do, and we won.”
The Bears will next take on George Washington on Friday, December 28, to close out the non-conference slate.
· Attendance for the game was 3,009. Gottlieb appreciated the support: “I'm so excited about the atmosphere in this building. I talk a lot about trying to build one of the nation's elite programs, and we can't do it without our fans. I thought it was electric in here tonight, which really helped us.”
·After sitting out the Northwestern game, Eliza Pierre returned to the court. In 15 minutes, she contributed three assists and two rebounds.
· Cal’s work on the offensive glass led to a 25-8 advantage in second-chance points.