Photo by Cal Athletics/KLC Photos

No. 14 Cal falls to No. 1 UConn, 76-66, in front of record crowd

December 22, 2018
3,072

Asha Thomas knocked down six threes and scored a game-high 22 points, but it was not enough as the No. 14 California Golden Bears fell to No. 1 UConn, 76-66.

“I’m proud of our team,” said Cal head coach, noting how well her team handled preparing for UConn, including the additional media attention. “And I’m proud of how we performed on the court. We wanted to win the game; it’s not about a moral victory of keeping it close. I’m more proud of what I saw and how good our team can be. I love the fight our team--the ability to come back when we were down. We’ve only raised our expectations from here for what we want our season to be.”

“I’m really proud of my teammates, with Asha stepping up and playing and shooting really well,” said Anigwe.

For her part, Thomas didn’t feel that her performance was out of the ordinary. “It was just like me shooting in the gym by myself, just getting reps. Yes, it was a big game--UConn, but I just had to knock down shots, to come alive for my team and do what to do to get the job done.”

Playing in front of the largest home crowd in program history, the Bears fought back from a 17-point deficit to threaten late, but were unable to overcome the Huskies.

Recee Caldwell had 11 points, and Kianna Smith contributed 10. Kristine Anigwe was limited to 10 points (on five of 16 shooting), but did have a double double with a game-high 14 rebounds.

All five UConn starters hit double figures, as the Huskies knocked down 57.4% of their shots, including a torrid 71.4% in the third, when UConn built their big lead.  Katie Lou Samuelson led the way with 20 points and a team-high 11 rebounds.

“Our margin for error obviously has changed over the years,” said UConn head coach Geno Auriemma. “This is one of those years we have to be prepared to grind it out. That’s our thing this year--we hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”

“We made UConn have to beat us,” said Gottlieb. “They needed contributions from all five starters.”

Cal hit 38.2% for the game, but did manage to corral many of their misses to grab 14 offensive rebounds, which resulted in 11 second-chance points.

The Huskies came way impressed.

“They’re just a lot bigger than we are in a lot of ways,” said Auriemma. “They’re a good team. They’re bigger than they look on film, longer than they look on film. They play hard, they compete, their guards are good. They’re a good team, a really good team.”

Cal (9-1) take its first loss of the season, while UConn remains perfect (11-0).

Recee Caldwell hit two threes to open the game, and Cal earned a 6-2 lead.

“I looked at her before the game and said, ‘Be ready to shoot,’” said Gottlieb. “I knew we were going to need to knock down shots. To get the building going and to get us going--that was huge.”

But the guard also struggled initially against the UConn press, and Cal’s two turnovers at midcourt allowed UConn to tie the game. A three by Megan Walker gave the Huskies their first lead at 9-6.

Undeterred, Cal came right back. Good ball movement and early offense found Asha Thomas open beyond the arc, and the senior sank three consecutive treys, and Cal was ahead 15-9 midway through the first period.

A basket by UConn’s Napheesa Collier and a three by Katie Lou Samuelson closed the gap to within one. A transition banked three by Crystal Dangerfield edged the Huskies ahead.

After another three by Caldwell, Dangerfield closed the quarter with another basket, and despite hot shooting from distance, Cal was down 23-20.

A quick-trigger three by Samuelson opened the second. The lead soon grew to double-digit on another basket by Dangerfield.

A shot-clock beating three by McKenzie Forbes broke the 9-0 Husky run, and the Bears converted a turnover into a transition three by Thomas, keeping Cal in the game, 30-26.

“The threes were crazy in the first half,” said Auriemma. “But that’s what happens against us, though, and we’re prepared for it. They make five per game. And they made eight in the first half.”

But UConn is an elite offense, built around shooters who need very little time and space to get their shots off. Dangerfield continued to show off her lethal combination of quickness and soft shooting touch, scoring two more baskets on midrange jumpers. Samuelson hit two more long jumpers, and UConn finished the half hitting 61.5% of their shots (16 0f 26).

Yet Cal stayed close, thanks to Asha Thomas, who finished the first half with 14 points. A steal and fastbreak basket by the point guard, along a basket down low by Kianna Smith, kept Cal within 38-32 after 20 minutes of play, despite shooting 36%.

Kristine Anigwe, who was bottled up on offense, led the way on the glass with eight rebounds, including the 1000th in her career.

“We were spending a lot of time trying to help in the lane,” said Auriemma. “That was the decision we made going in.”

Smith opened the third with a runner. 

On the other end, UConn began to carve up the Bear defense, led by Samuelson. The senior got involved in everything, hitting a basket and then cutting or driving to find an open teammate. Her assist to Megan Walker underneath got UConn’s lead back to double digits, 44-34.

“She’s changed,” said Auriemma. “Her reputation was she makes shots. She’s a basketball player now. She’s handling the ball, she’s playing defense, she’s rebounding it. That kid has become a hell of a basketball player.”

On the other end, Cal missed a couple of lay-ups. Only three tough baskets by Anigwe helped keep the Bears afloat.

UConn’s defense extended on the perimeter, making every pass difficult. As the Husky lead grew, Cal started to rush, and shots rimmed out.  

Another hard screen and another Samuelson open jumper closed the third with UConn up 61-46.

Caldwell and Alaysia Styles scored to open the fourth and bring energy back to the crowd. Anigwe picked up her third assist of the game on the Styles basket.

Twitter / Cal Women's Basketball
A Cal women’s record crowd of 10.8k at Haas Pavilion

“I thought Kristine passed the ball better tonight than I’ve seen her pass the ball in a long time,” said Auriemma. “And that really changes your team, when she passes the ball like that.”

But on the other end, UConn continued to find high-percentage shots and knocked them down. A smooth jumper from Collier earned the Huskies their biggest lead of 67-50, with six and half minutes left.

“We figured out eventually--here’s how we’re going to stop you and here’s what we’re going to do on offense and you can’t stop us,” said Auriemma. “We got up 17, and it was a methodical 17--it wasn’t like we ran out an made seven threes. And I like that; against a good team on the road, that’s how you have to do it.”

Down big against a talented opponent playing with discipline and confidence, past Cal teams might have let the game slip away into rout. Instead, Cal then began its comeback.

“Everything is different,” said Thomas about this year’s edition of the Bears. ”We’ve grown. We know what it feels like, and we know what we want to do to change it. We wanted this win; we wanted to battle. We embraced it.”

Smith hit a baseline jumper and Thomas knocked down her fifth three to give the Bears a lift and pull within 12. But Walker responded with five points of her own, becoming the fifth UConn player to hit double digits.

The Bears continued to push, with CJ West giving Cal a lift. The reserve center made UConn pay inside, crashing the glass for two offensive rebounds, which resulted in four points for the Bears.  West finished with six points and six rebounds.

“We had a roles meeting early on in the year, and that made an impact on our team immediately,” said Anigwe. “That showed that you could excel in your role. Everyone on our team thrives in their role. You can see in the game, CJ coming in and every game she’s crashing the boards, and that’s exactly what she did against UConn.”

West then blocked Walker inside, and Caldwell grabbed the rebound and the Bears sped up the court. Caldwell found Thomas, who hit a three and Cal was within 72-62 with just under two minutes to play. The crowd erupted, and in the midst of the bedlam, Auriemma was assessed a technical foul for arguing fouls called against his team.

“We have the reputation around the country, year in and year out--we just don’t foul,” said Auriemma. “And by the end of the game, Cal had shot more free-throws than us and still had four fouls to give. I was OK with it, until I wasn’t.”

Thomas hit both free-throws, and Cal was within single digits.

Samuelson missed a three, and the Bears attacked on the other end. Kianna Smith and West gave Cal a glimpse of Cal’s future, executing a give and go that resulted in Smith’s layup. Cal was within two possessions, 72-66, with 1:19 to play.

But that was as close as Cal would come.

Anigwe played great defense, moving her feet and blocking Collier’s heave inside. The Bears raced up the court, but Thomas’s three missed.

“I kept telling them, ‘Let’s chip away,” said Gottlieb. “Then all of a sudden, we’re down six now, let’s get a stop and score. We get a stop, and AT gets an open three in transition--you cannot ask for more than that: a kid who is a gamer, who has put so much into the program--I’ll take that shot.”

The Bears then fouled to stop the clock, sending Dangerfield to the line. The freshman hit both, and UConn was up 74-66, with 37.3 left.

After a Cal time out, the Bears found Thomas up top, but she missed. Dangerfield hit another pair from the line, and UConn was out of danger.

As the buzzer, the crowd--an announced 10,818-- rose to applaud the effort from the Golden Bears.

“Cal played a great game,” said Auriemma. “And they probably impressed a lot of fans that had never seen them play before.”

Afterwards, the Bears spoke about how the performance has given them a measuring stick and has raised their expectations.

“It says a lot about how far we’ve come, and who we are as people and who we are as basketball team,” said Gottlieb. “To be able to hang with UConn, you have to take some punches; they’re really good. We gave ourselves a chance the whole time. I don’t think we were perfect. We certainly didn’t play above ourselves, but we hung tough the whole time, and that’s important. This team should be thinking championships; this team should be thinking finding a way to get back and play UConn again, in March. That’s what I think the way the we played showed.”

“We’re just a different team than we had ever been,” said Anigwe. “I feel that we’re going to do damage in the Pac-12 and do really well in March.”

 

NOTES:

  • This was the first time Cal hosted a No. 1 team. Cal is now 0-5 vs. No. 1s.
  • Bears lost the last match up with UConn (11/17/17, at Storrs) 82-47.
  • UConn now has won 126 consecutive regular season games.
  • Anigwe remains the only player in Division I to have a double double in every game this season. 
  • With her 6th rebound, Anigwe collected her 1000th rebound, becoming the 11th woman in conference history to have 1000 rebounds and 2000 points.
  • Anigwe now has 1008 rebounds, just passing Talia Caldwell for 4th in the Cal history
  • Asha Thomas (along with Anigwe) was honored pre-game for reaching 1000 points, becoming the 30th Cal player to do so.

 

Links to related Bear Insider coverage:

 

 

Tags: Asha Thomas, WBB
 
×
Verify your student status
See Subscription Benefits
Trial only available to users who have never subscribed or participated in a previous trial.