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Bears Edge Buffs, 78-76

February 9, 2018
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The California Golden Bears pulled out a nailbiter, beating Colorado 78-76. In the process the Bears snapped their three-game losing streak.

“This was a really important win for us,” said Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “Our team was locked in. We didn’t play perfectly by any means, but there was no doubt in my mind that everyone was with us, which allowed me to make some calls and adjustments. And they got the job done.”

Cal had five players in double-figures in the team win: Asha Thomas (18 points) knocked down the winning free-throws, and Mikayla Cowling (17) hit one big shot after another down the stretch. Jaelyn Brown (13 points) kept Cal in the game in the first half, while Kristine Anigwe (14) and Penina Davidson (10 points and nine rebounds) fought hard down low.

Every little bit was needed for Cal to fight off a game Colorado. Center Zoe Correal had a game-high 20 points. Alexis Robinson had 19, and Kennedy Leonard had 16 to go with nine rebounds.

The Bears are now 16-8, 7-6 in the Pac-12. Colorado drops to 12-12, 3-10 in conference.

 

 

From the start of the contest, Cal’s energy was markedly different than in recent games.

Cal’s defense switched decisively and effectively, forcing a turnover on the first possession.

On offense, the Bears looked for early offense, with Kianna Smith finding a streaking Kristine Anigwe for a bucket. Cal took its first lead on a basket by Cowling, and Smith’s steal and hoop got the Bears ahead 6-3. But for a couple layups rimming out, the Bears might have earned a big early lead.

“At practice, we had a lot of inspiration to be better, and to do the things we want to do at a fast pace,” said Cowling. “It translated from practice today.”

Colorado had their own troubles on offense, managing only two baskets on 12 attempts.

Jaelyn Brown came off the bench to hit three consecutive baskets for the Bears, giving Cal the 12-9 edge after the first period.

Two more baskets from Brown, including a three, kept Cal ahead at the start of the second. Brown tallied 11 of Cal’s first 17 points.

“She gives us a different pace, just coming in and running and making shots was huge,” said Gottlieb.

“I just felt that I was really focused, and just thought, ‘I need to score,’” said Brown.

But Colorado began to attack the paint, and soon tied to game at 17 behind two baskets from center Zoe Correal.

Cal came right back behind strong teamwork. Smith knocked down an elbow jumper behind a screen from Penina Davidson. Anigwe then snapped a perfect past out of a double team to an open Davidson on the other side of the lane.

Anigwe then scored six consecutive points for the Bears, stretching the lead to 27-21.

Consecutive turnovers stalled Cal’s offense, and the Buffs tied the game at 29.

Asha Thomas hit a three to close the scoring of the first half, and Cal maintained its one-possession advantage, 32-29.

Zoe Correal scored twice down low as Colorado immediately took the lead in the third.

Then the game became a shootout. Quinessa Caylao-Do’s three-point play was matched by one from Asha Thomas. And the two teams continued to trade baskets for the next several minutes.

At the 4:20 mark, both teams had hit eight of 11 shots (72.7%) for the quarter, with Cal holding the 50-48 lead.

Asha Thomas attacked the basket, earning consecutive trips to the line and hitting four free throws.

Colorado quickly tied up the game, taking advantage of Anigne’s absence. The Buffs edged ahead 56-54 on two free throws by Kennedy Leonard.

Anigwe came back and Cal executed well on the final possession, finding Anigwe open underneath, and the game came down to the final 10 minutes.

Kianna Smith missed a three attempt, but Cowling was there for her second spectacular tip in of the game.

The Buffs worked the pick and roll for another basket by Correal, and Colorado’s guards broke down Cal’s defense again and again. Alexis Robinson’s three with 6:32 to go gave the Buffs their largest lead of the game, 68-63.

Davidson turned an offensive rebound into two free-throws, and Cowling hit a pull up with the shot clock running low. Two more Cowling baskets and Cal regained the lead, 71-68.

“Obviously, moving Mikayla to the four-spot—she made me look smart, because she made every important play,” said Gottlieb. “Mikayla is a match up problem all over the floor. She was really aggressive and got to her spots and made shots.”

Colorado responded with two more Correal baskets, pulling ahead 72-71.

Another basket by Cowling, this time off a lob from Anigwe, continued the see-saw battle.

With a little over a minute to play and down 76-75, the Bears worked the ball around to Smith, but her three was off. Brown crashed the glass to earn Cal another possession.

“It was incredibly gritty play down the stretch,” said Gottlieb. “Jaelyn had some huge offensive rebounds.”

After a held ball (possession Cal), Thomas took it strong along the baseline and was fouled. The junior, who leads the Pac-12 in free-throw shooting, knocked down both, and Cal was up 77-76.

“[Thomas] just has that Little General demeanor to her,” said Gottlieb.

With 31 seconds to play, Colorado held for essentially the last shot. Robinson missed the corner three, and Cowling secured the rebound and was fouled with 2.6 seconds left. Cowling split the free-throws, and Colorado called time to advance the ball.

The Buffs put the ball into Leonard’s hands, but the Buff star could not hit and Cal escaped with the win.

Gottlieb said she had confidence that her team would prevail, because her team stayed together.

“It really felt that our team was going to win this, no matter what.”

“It’s huge,” said Cowling. “We came off a rough weekend last weekend, and this kind of win, a gutsy win, it shows what we’re capable of. We have a long way to go still, and we have a couple games to prove ourselves to the rest of the world and to ourselves as well.”

 

 

 

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