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Cal Basketball

Thomas Scores 25 as Bears Upset Stanford, 78-66

February 17, 2018

After Cal lost at Stanford two nights ago, Asha Thomas said that the Bears needed to “lock in for 40 minutes.”

Given the second chance this afternoon, the junior point guard did her part, scoring 25 points--including 10 in the fourth quarter, to lead Cal to its best win of the year, 78-66, over No. 14 Stanford.

“I was being myself, I know what I can do in big games,” said Thomas, before quickly referring to the contributions of her teammates.

Cal got contributions from everyone. Kianna Smith had 14, and Anigwe 11. Jaelyn Brown joined the double-figure crew with 10, including a huge three in the fourth as the Bears repelled Stanford’s comeback.

Cal dominated on the glass, 46 to 28.

“Cal has very talented players,” said Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer. “And they’re very capable of putting together a game like this. We’ve been more consistent, but we didn’t get it done today. We can’t just always depend on [Brittany McPhee] to do all of the scoring, or Alanna to do all the scoring.”

The Bears withstood 24 points from Stanford’s Brittany McPhee and 20 from Alanna Smith. Kiana Williams, the freshman guard who was the hero of Thursday’s game, scored 14, but the rest of the Stanford line up managed only eight points.

“I missed a lot of gimmes that I missed right under the basket,” said Smith, who finished seven of 21 from the field.

In the process, Cal broke its six-game losing streak to Stanford and notched their first win of the season over a top-25 team.

It was also Seniors Day, and the Bears sent out Mikayla Cowling and Penina Davidson in style.

“What can I say, as a head coach, you get some dream moments,” said Cal head coach. “And it’s not for you; you want these young people to experience that feeling, that celebration feeling. And today was our day. I thought every single player on our team battled. A lot of the post work was grunt work. And when we beat Stanford, it often comes down to guard play, and I thought our guards were spectacular today.”

The Bears are now 18-9 (9-7 in Pac-12); Stanford is 19-8 (13-3).




Coming off the 74-69 loss at Stanford less than 48 hours ago, when Cal fell down 9-0, the Bears were determined to get off to a better start. From the beginning, Cal was the assertive team, quick to the ball and battling on the glass.

“The tone was set from the first play of the game,” said VanDerveer. “Cal as extremely aggressive, and that aggressiveness was what they needed. I credit them: they came out with a great game plan and got after it.”

Stanford spread the floor, and Brittany McPhee found a path all the way to the rim for the game’s first basket.

Anigwe responded with two baskets down low, but both teams missed open shots.

Penina Davidson created a steal at midcourt with quick hands, and Asha Thomas made it pay off with a nifty dipsy-doo drive. Thomas then hit a three, and Cal was ahead 9-6 halfway through the first period.

“They finished the game well against us at Stanford,” said VanDerveer. “I think they had momentum from that a little bit.”

Cal battled hard, winning multiple 50/50 balls and contested rebounds. Davidson grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled; the senior knocked down both free-throws.

“We knew it would come down to what we call ‘Dog Plays,’ and we had to be the dog,” said Gottlieb, unintentionally (?) referring to Lunar New Year and the Year of the Dog. “Time after time, we came up with big plays.”

McPhee hit a circus shot from her hip over tough Cal defense. Alanna Smith wheeled around Alaysia Styles and completed the three point play, tying the game at 11.

Kiana Williams hit her first basket, a three, giving Stanford the 16-13 lead. But Cal would hold Stanford to five of 23 from three in this game; Williams had five threes by herself on Thursday.

“We talked about contesting the three-point line a lot better,” said Gottlieb about one of the adjustments the Bears made between games.

Thomas again broke down the defense and found Styles open underneath for a score. Cowling hit a jumper from the wing to return Cal to the lead 17-16.

Unlike Thursday night, this time it’s Cal who closed out the quarter with a rush. After Alanna Smith missed two free-throws, Cal’s Kianna Smith got all the way to the basket for a layin. Then Cowling and Thomas and Cowling combined for a steal and lay-up, and Cal closed the quarter on an 8-0 run, to lead 21-16.

CJ West extended the run to 10-0 to open the second quarter.

Stanford came right back, repeatedly beating Cal down the floor, tying the game at 23. McPhee’s free throw returned Stanford to the lead.

“We talked about pushing the pace a little faster; clearly, Tara did too,” said Gottlieb.

Kianna Smith knocked down consecutive threes, and Cal was up 29-26.

McPhee helped Stanford keep pace with a free-thow and a basket. Her three at 3:26 edged Stanford ahead 32-31. But McPhee picked up her second foul quickly thereafter and went to the bench.

Jaelyn Brown was left wide open on the wing, and the sophomore made the Cardinal pay, hitting a three.

Cal continued to hustle, earning multiple opportunities on the offensive end but unable to convert. But without McPhee, Stanford also struggled to break down Cal’s defense.

Brown hit a soft pullup, and on the other end, Williams beat the clock with her drive, and Cal took at 36-34 lead into intermission.

Cal entered the game 15-0 when leading at halftime.

Cal opened the third seeming stymied by Stanford’s defense, but the Bears still scored when Anigwe hit a putback on opportunity.

Asha Thomas converted on a two on one. Kianna Smith got all the way to the cup. And when Cowling hit from the baseline, the Bears had made the first four baskets of the quarter, going up 44-34 and forcing a Stanford time out.

McPhee scored on a drive, but Smith responded with two more drives of her own. The freshman, who had been struggling on offense of late, including scoring only two points in her last game, shook off her slump.

“Obviously, been having a couple of rough games,” said Smith. “Playing Stanford at their house and not playing the way I wanted to. Just changed my mentality.”

McPhee then beat Cowling baseline, and she her three-point play settled the Cardinal.

Undaunted, Cal locked down on defense, denying multiple Stanford attempts, including a block by Davidson.

Thomas missed a three on the other end, but Davidson chased down the carom, and her effort gave Thomas another chance. This time the point guard made good on her drive, keeping Cal ahead 50-39, halfway through the third.

Cowling picked up her third foul on a questionable call, and her replacement Brown picked up a charge of her own.

McPhee hit two free-throws, and Johnson scored down low, but Thomas helped Cal stay ahead with two great drives.

Alanna Smith knocked down a three when the Bears collapsed on McPhee in the paint, bringing Stanford within 54-46.

Kianna Smith hit another jumper.

On the other end, Cal grew increasing frustrated with what they perceived as bad calls, leading to a reviewed foul on Anigwe. The call stood as a common foul, and Kaylee Johnson hit both free throws for Stanford.

But the delay for the review also allowed the Bears a chance to reset, and Anigwe responded on the other end with a tough basket inside. It was the last score of the quarter, and Cal lead 59-48 after 30 minutes of play.

Both teams struggled to get anything going on offense for the first minute and a half at the start of the fourth, until Kiana Williams got past everyone to the hoop. She was fouled and hit the free throw.

Consecutive Cal turnovers became baskets for Williams and McPhee, and with 7:19 to go, the lead was down to 59-55 for Cal.

After a Cal time-out, the Bears worked the ball around on the left side, until Thomas found a seam to get into the paint. She was fouled, and the junior hit both free-throws to stop the Stanford 7-0 run.

On Cal’s next possession, Thomas again kept the ball and drove to the hoop. This time, she passed off to Davidson, who was fouled and split free-throws, stretching the Cal lead back to 62-55.

Stanford had three chances to score on the other end, and Williams converted in the key, and it was a five-point game with five minutes to play.

Kianna Smith stole the ball but could not converted the tough layup. On the other end, Alanna Smith knocked down the triple, and Stanford was within 62-60.

Instead of a collapse, the Bears responded with tough and decisive play, led by Thomas, who drained a long three of her own.

Stanford put the ball in Alanna Smith’s hands, and she got herself to the line for a free-throw and then another basket, but any Stanford momentum was neutralized by Cowling, who hit another three late in the clock.

Cowling tried another three and missed, but the senior raced back on the other end for a steal, preventing the Stanford fastbreak.

Cal then found Brown on the wing, and after a slight hesitation, the sophomore let fly and knocked down the triple. Cal 71-63, with 1:19 to play, and Stanford called time.

“When we needed a big bucket, we got one,” said Gottlieb. “Our guards made great decisions, and we got key stops when we needed it. When they made their run, we were able to lock in and be a good version of ourselves.”

McPhee missed a three, and Thomas grabbed the rebound. She was fouled and hit both, and Cal was up 10 with a minute left.

Three more desperation misses from distance from Stanford, and the Bears salted the game away from the free-throw line.

Thomas hit three of four from the line, and Brown knocked down two, and the Bears’ celebration began.

Cal then called time with 18 seconds left to sub out Davidson and Cowling, who received a huge roar from the crowd.

“So incredibly proud of our seniors and how they’ve led us, and what they’ve led us through,” said Gottlieb. “To get that win for them was huge.”

“Nina and Kayla have been great examples of leaders and have given so much, even to me in this short time I’ve been here,” said Kianna Smith. “So we owed it to them to come out and play our hardest.”

Asha Thomas hugged the ball and squatted on the court and watched as the clock ran down to zero on Cal’s biggest win of the season.

Thomas was proud of her team’s ability to lock in for the entire game.

“Yes we did, yes we did,” confirmed Thomas. “That was beautiful to see. Of course this was for our seniors—we wanted them to go out with a bang in their last home game here. They did their job, and it was just our job to add on to that. All 40 minutes, I think we did that.”

“We needed that signature win over a team above us,” said Gottlieb. “The lesson they’ll learn is when we play with that kind of energy, we can beat anyone." 

Cal closes the Pac-12 regularly season in against Washington State (2/23) and Washington (2/25).

"We have a huge road trip coming up," said Gottlieb. "Those two games now become more important than the Stanford game.  So that’s the mentality we’ll have and carry that into the Pac-12 Tournament and deep into postseason.”

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