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Cal Basketball

Cal Opens Pac-12 with 76-64 Win over USC

December 29, 2017

The No. 20 California Golden Bears opened the Pac-12 season with a 76-64 win over USC. The Bears had four players in double figures, led by Kristine Anigwe’s 16 points and game-high 13 rebounds.

“I’m really proud of our players,” said California head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “We talked about toughness and being a team that never gives in. We saw that tonight. We got production from a lot of places, but we wanted our post tandem to really dominate, and that’s what happened tonight.”

Penina Davidson contributed 15 points, including 11 in a scintillating six-minute stretch in the fourth quarter, when the game was in doubt. USC had closed the game within four points, with seven and a half to play. But after Davidson was through, the Bears had effectively put the game away, stretching to a double-digit lead with 90 seconds left.

Cal’s other senior, Mikayla Cowling, had carried the offense in the first half, when she scored 11 of her 13 points. Jaelyn Brown contributed 10 in 16 minutes.

Kristen Simon had 20 points and 11 boards or the Trojans. USC’s starters played nearly the entire game and had nothing left by the end. Cal’s bench outscored USC’s 18-0.

Cal and USC are now both 10-2. This was the conference opener for both teams.

Mikayla Cowling scored four baskets in the paint for Cal to open the game, and Kristine Anigwe knocked down a three from the top of the key as Cal opened to an 11-7 lead.

A long jumper by Cowling gave her 10 of Cal’s first 13 points.

“This is her third game in a row with double-digit points,” said Gottlieb. “It’s coming out of easy stuff that we know she can do. She can get to the rim; she can make a jumper. Our veterans are playing like seniors. Every possession matters, and when she has that intensity level, she can do a lot of things. If she can be another scorer for us, it gives us another dimension.”

USC stayed in the game by hustling after offensive boards, despite hitting only four of its first 12 shots. Aliyah Mazyck’s second three tied the game at 13, and Kristen Simon’s second chance finish gave USC the 15-13 lead.

Alayshia Styles’ strong drive tied the game, and Cowling’s free throw edged Cal back ahead. Jaelyn Brown’s three ended the first period with the Bears ahead 19-17.

Asha Thomas hit a three to open the second, and CJ West scored a found money basket, scooping up a loose ball in the paint and banking it in over Simon. The Bears pulled to their largest lead of the game, 24-17.

On defense, Cal switched up their coverage and slowed down the USC attack.

“You have to get your sea legs in Pac-12 play,” said Gottlieb. “They’re quick and aggressive, so our players just settled in a little bit. But we also mixed up our zone defenses, so when they got comfortable with one, we went to another, and that was effective.”

Anigwe continued to show off her improved jumper, hitting from the elbow. She then leveraged a double team into an open lay-up for Penina Davidson. The Cal star then scored down low, and Cal had their first double digit lead of the game, 32-22.

Anigwe denied Simon one on one, forcing an airball and the resulting shot clock violation.

Despite the strong defense, Cal could not take advantage on the end, missing a flurry of threes. USC clawed back within seven, but Alaysia Styles hit a put back on Cal’s final possession, and the Bears entered the break up 36-27.

Cal shut down USC in the second period, holding the Trojans to 10 points and 31% shooting.

The second half got off to a ragged start, full of miscues, missed bunnies, and fouls, as USC put Cal into the bonus less than four minutes in. Three Anigwe free-throws and a three by Kianna Smith gave Cal the 42-27 lead.

Mazyck gave USC some life with two aggressive drives, the second a three-point play. But Cowling countered with her own explosive drive and reverse, and Smith sank a pull-up three. Asha Thomas was fouled on a three, and the junior sank all three free-throws, and Cal’s lead ballooned to 50-33.

USC battled back, scoring six consecutive points by driving hard to the basket. Sadie Edwards had four of the points, becoming the 4th Trojan to get into the scoring column.

USC’s run prompted a Cal time-out, and the Bears made the adjustment, with Jaelyn Brown picking up a charge on the Edwards drive.

Cal’s offense continued its dry spell, however, plagued by multiple turnovers. Anigwe kept Cal afloat with a three, but the Bears could not slow Edwards, who scored on two more drives.

“She’s a well-rounded player,” said Gottieb. “She hasn’t taken a lot of threes for us, but she has great shot form. But what we talked about is make the right basketball play. And if people as sagging off her, she can keep the defense honest.”

“I’m definitely going to focus on posting up, but if the shot is there, I’m going to take it,” said Anigwe, who was perfect on her three attempts from beyond the arc.

Anigwe then picked up her fourth foul, and Simon cashed in on both free throws, giving USC the 12-3 run in the final five minutes of the third and getting back into the game, down 53-45.

CJ West and Simon traded baskets in the paint to open the fourth. Jaelyn Brown split a pair of free-throws, but Jordan Adams scored her first points of the game, a three. A Cal turnover resulted in a breakaway score on the other end, and USC was with 56-52.

Penina Davidson then took over on offense inside. The senior post had a three point play, then two consecutive putbacks, and Cal was ahead 63-54, with six minutes to go.

After a USC turnover, Cal ran down the clock, but Smith missed a runner. However, was once again there for the rebound. Davidson hit two more free-throws. Anigwe hit her third three of the game, keeping USC at bay, 68-56, with four and a half minutes to play.

“I believe in our team so much, and that could happen to any of our players,” said Davidson of her dominant stretch. “I wouldn’t have been able to get those shots off if [Anigwe] didn’t get the attention she did or Teezy wasn’t making shots. It actually started off with CJ’s pass; she was unselfish enough to just pass it off. So it goes down to the teammates that I have.”

Anigwe then assisted on another Davidson score before fouling out with 90 seconds left in the game.

USC continued to attack, getting to the line for four free-throws, but the Bears had done enough by then. Smith hit two free-throws, and Brown made four, to close out the win.

“This is Cal vs USC,” said Gottlieb. “We never expected them to lay down or walk away. We thought we would have to break them, which I think we did, at a critical time. We had to use everything in our arsenal to hold them off. Winning teams are not about star players or the people who score all the points; it’s about the combinations you have. We put Jaelyn in at the end and that’s what she did; she had a really big three in the first half and a big jumper in the second half, and took a huge charge. Our depth is important to what we do. To be elite, you need star players, but you also need people who are stars in their roles.”

Cal hit 10 of 11 free-throws in the fourth quarter, and 17 of 20 for the game.

“It’s so much fun playing together right now,” said Davidson.

Cal will now take on No. 11 UCLA, who lost at Stanford 76-65 tonight. The game will tip at 11am on December 31.

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