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Cal Basketball

Bears Edged by Tigers, 55-52, in Cal Classic Finale

November 25, 2017


In a battle of top 25 teams, Cal fell just short.

Down most of the game, the No. 21 California Golden Bears clawed back to tie late in the fourth before falling to No. 23 Missouri, 55-52.  The Tigers claimed the Cal Classic title.

“It’s frustrating,” said Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “We gave ourselves a shot to win at the end, and we couldn’t pull it out. I love our energy down the stretch, but I really expect a lot of this team, so it’s hard when we don’t do exactly what we’re capable of. Missouri is really good. They came down here and knocked down shots. They’re tough. Hats off to Missouri for coming out here to California and winning the game.”

A game after they hit a school record 17 threes, the Bears fell victim to Missouri’s sharpshooting from beyond the arc, as the Tigers hit nine of 18, including one by JordanChavis with 3:16 to go that gave Missouri the lead for good.

Asha Thomas continued her hot hand, leading the Bears with 14 points. The junior hit four treys for the game but missed on her final attempt that would have tied the game.

Kristine Anigwe scored 10, fighting off double teams for the second game in a row, and freshmen Kianna Smith and Alaysia Styles contributed nine and eight points, respectively. Styles also had seven rebounds to lead the Bears.

But Missouri effectively shut down Cal’s offense, holding the Bears under 30% shooting for much of the game.

“They just played their style of defense,” said Thomas. “They did what they did. For us, we needed to know how to adjust—still play our basketball, play our style, but adjust. Just find a way to score. We had to defend as well too. We had lapses throughout the game. We just have to learn to adjust.”

Sophie Cunningham, who was named Tournament MVP, had 11 points and a game high seven assists. Amber Smith also had 11, including hitting all three of her trey attempts. Cierra Porter dominated the paint with 12 rebounds.

With the loss, Cal is now 3-2, while Missouri improved to 5-1.


On the very first possession of the game, Kristine Anigwe was called for an offensive foul. On the other end, the Cal post smothered and blocked Cierra Porter’s shot, forcing a shot clock violation.

The Bears cashed in on the turnover, with Penina Davidson knocking down a three on the other end. It would be Cal’s only lead in the game.

Both teams played tough defense. The Bears denied drives and did not bite on fakes, while Missouri successfully bottled up Anigwe inside.

Anigwe flared out to the top of the key, tying the game at five with a jumper.

But the Cal offense became rushed long jumpers, and Missouri took advantage. The Tigers showed more patience, finding seams and space when the Bears provided help defense. Cunningham hit a runner and then found an open Jordan Frericks underneath, and Missouri stretched out to a 13-5.

“Missouri played a sagging man to man defense, and it rattled us a little bit,” said Gottlieb. “It made us a little bit hesitant and we couldn’t get to our spots, and we weren’t taking the right shots and the right rhythm.”

With one second to go in the first, Cunningham and Anigwe collided, and Anigwe crumbled to the ground. She would walk off under her own power, but it was her second foul. Cunningham knocked down both free throws, and Missouri had the 15-9 lead.

Cowling drove the baseline and earned two free-throws for Cal’s first points of the second period.

Alaysia Styles gave the Bears a lift off the bench, running the floor and battling for rebounds. Her two free throws helped Cal keep pace. Better rebounding also allowed the Bears to run and get early offense. A mid-range jumper by Kianna Smith closed it to within 19-15 and forced a Tiger time out.

Missouri came right back with consecutive three pointers to stretch the advantage back to eight.

Both teams struggled to get clean looks at the basket, and another three by Amber Smith put the Bears in a 30-19 hole.

“I was trying to generate some pace by changing up defenses, but we couldn’t score,” said Gottlieb.

Even after a time out, the Bears looked confused on offense, with their best option a desperation drive from Cowling, resulting in her second offensive foul.

After Missouri returned the favor with a turnover of their own, Cal came down for the last shot of the half. With the offense finding no advantage after 15 seconds, Thomas threw up a three at the buzzer, and her first field goal of the game drew Cal within 30-22 at the break.

For the first half, Anigwe had six points (all on long jumpers), as Missouri rendered Cal’s offensive inefficient; the Bears made 29% of their shots.

Cal showed much better patience on offense to start the third, with Cowling and Thomas hitting open shots, the latter hitting a three. Smith followed with a three of her own.

But the Tigers kept pace with their own threes, and halfway through the third, Missouri remained ahead by eight, 38-30.

Thomas sank her third three of the game to pull Cal closer, but Missouri’s inside play continues to take its toll, as multiple Bears were in foul trouble.

At 1:25 left, Anigwe and Cunningham were called for a double foul, and the two stars got heated, jawing at each other across the court. After a video review, the call stood, which meant that Anigwe had her fourth foul and had to go to the bench.

After the two sides traded baskets, Cal had a chance to cut the lead in half, but Thomas’s three was waved off due to a Cal offense foul. The Bears trailed 43-37 entering the fourth.

The Bears picked up their intensity. Asha Thomas jumped into the passing lane to slap away the ball, but her breakaway attempt rolled off the rim. However, Jaelyn Brown was there for the follow. On the next Cal possession, Thomas hit a pull up at the shot clock buzzer, and all of a sudden, it was a one-possesion game, 45-42, with over seven minutes left in the game.

After a Tiger free-throw, Kianna Smith called her own number, hitting a pull up and pulling Cal within two. But Missouri’s Smith responded with a three to keep the Tiger ahead 49-44.

CJ West hit a shot down low and the whistle blew. Cal fans cheered the possible three-point play, but unfortunately, the foul was on West, her fifth.

But the Bears shook it off, and on the next trip down, Thomas hollered to get the ball, and her three pulled Cal within 49-47.

Anigwe scored to tie the game at 49 with 3:41 to go.

With the crowd roaring, the Bears immediately trapped Porter on the sideline, but the Tiger post stayed calm and found Chavis with a skip pass, and Chavis knocked down the open three. It was a lead Missouri would not relinquish.

Cunningham drove baseline and scored to give Missouri some breathing room, 54-49.

But the Bears were not done. Fighting hard on the glass for offensive boards, Cal finally earned a trip to the charity stripe, with Styles splitting a pair to get within 54-50.

On the other end, Amber Smith missed a runner, but Porter grabbed the rebound. The Bears collapsed on her, forcing a miss.

The Bears found Anigwe on the other end, and she scored a leaner. She was fouled on the play, but Anigwe missed the free throw.

Down 54-52 with 15 seconds to go, the Bears were forced to foul. Porter went to the line and made one, giving the Bears one final chance to send the game to overtime.

Cal called time to advance the ball, and the Bears set up a play for Thomas. The junior got the ball off behind a double screen, but her attempt was way short, and Missouri pulled out the win.

“It was a defensive battle, and we didn’t have enough offense to get it done,” said Gottlieb. “We didn’t figure out a way to get buckets any way we could until late. We just needed a little bit more urgency earlier on, a little bit more ‘dog’ in us, as we like to say. It’s easy to look at the stat sheet and say, ‘Oh well, Missouri made 50% from three. They did, but we feel like we could have controlled some things where that wouldn’t have been the deciding factor.

“But it will make us better. This is a really fun team to coach. My standards for them are really high; that’s what makes this one tough to swallow. But I know we have the ability to use it for our benefit down the road as we use it to accomplish things bigger than just today.

“It’s easy to pad your schedule with wins and blow people out, but it’s the wins in January and February and March that count the most. We’re very intentional with our schedule, finding different styles of play. This is not the only team that’s going to play sagging man to man defense on us. There’s a number of teams in the conference that do the same thing. So facing it early, and facing adversity early makes us better. It wasn’t ‘Oh we ran great offense and then missed a shot. It wasn’t that kind of day. It was we didn’t get to the things we wanted to get to. It’s a lesson we have to learn, and we will. I’d rather have tied it up, went in overtime and won, and learned the lesson, but you can’t be afraid to bring in teams that have the potential to beat you, because that’s the only way you get better.”




Cal Classic All-Tournament Team:

Kayla Grimme (Manhattan)

Kianna Smith (California)

Cierra Porter (Missouri)

Amber Smith (Missouri)

Asha Thomas (California)

Sophie Cunningham (Missouri)—MVP

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