After a winless five-game homestand to start the year, Cal women’s basketball played its first road game of the season Saturday afternoon against No. 11 UCLA, hoping for better fortunes. Instead, Cal fans experienced a familiar feeling, as the Bears were played off the court in a 71-37 blowout.
The loss is a slight improvement from the 83-38 defeat Cal suffered at the hands of No. 1 Stanford in its last outing, but only just. This game had many parallels to the Bears’ poor showing against the Cardinal, as it was another rough showing against a California rival with national championship aspirations.
While the Bruins aren’t quite as talented as Stanford on paper, they looked every bit like a true contender in their dominant performance Saturday. The Bruins’ aggressive defense locked down the Bears, grabbing an incredible 20 steals and forcing 30 turnovers. Cal, by comparison, could only force five steals and 10 UCLA turnovers.
What is most impressive, though, is that the Bruins did this despite an off game from arguably their best player, sophomore guard Charisma Osborne. The former five-star recruit leads the team in scoring with 17 points per game, a mark good enough to place her fourth in the entire Pac-12. On Saturday, though, the UCLA star was silent, putting up only 6 points on 3-of-11 shooting.
The Bears deserve credit for shutting her down, but the rest of the Bruins more than made up for her quiet afternoon. Senior Michaela Onyenwere, the Robin to Osborne’s Batman, put up a game-high 18 points. Her average of 16.5 points per game puts her right on Osborne’s tail and is good enough for fifth in the Pac-12, making UCLA the only team in the conference to have two players in the top five in scoring.
Senior Natalie Chou matched Onyenwere with 18 points of her own, including a scorching hot 4 of 8 from three. German freshman Emily Bessoir had a solid showing too, helping out with 13 points of her own. If the Bruins can get their two stars and experienced role players all clicking at once, they should be able to make some noise in the NCAA tournament. They didn’t have that Saturday and still looked like a powerhouse.
Part of that may be due to the fact that they were facing off against a short-handed Cal team whose season has been rocky thus far. The Bears once again failed to get anything going on offense, struggling to find outside shooting and move the ball with three of their five scholarship guards out with season-ending injuries. The Bears made only two of the 14 shots they let fly from beyond the arc and mustered just eight assists, while the Bruins had 21.
One bright spot of the afternoon was the return of sophomore guard Leilani McIntosh, who missed the last two games under concussion protocol. She started the game off hot with each of the Bears’ first 6 points and looked like she would single-handedly keep Cal in the game, but her touch cooled off from there. McIntosh finished the game with only 2 more points on 3-of-13 shooting and a game-high seven turnovers.
The Bears were led in scoring by talented freshman Dalayah Daniels, who put up 14 points and 10 rebounds, but she too struggled with efficiency, shooting 4 of 16 from the field.
“Dalayah is staying positive and is putting out a ton of energy and effort, which helps her because she’s extremely skilled and talented,” said Cal head coach Charmin Smith. “When we get her to slow down a bit mentally and settle in, I think we’ll see her shooting percentage go up.”
No other Bear made much of an impact, though freshman Sela Heide was the best of the rest with 6 points. That’s something Cal needs to change quickly. If it doesn’t start getting efficient scoring from its best players and occasional help from its supporting cast, more losses may be in store.
The Bears will have little time to regroup, as they are right back in action Monday afternoon against USC. The Trojans are the only other Pac-12 team winless in conference play, a welcome sight after back-to-back matchups against two of the nation’s best.
Cal will put this loss behind it and focus on perhaps the best opportunity to get in the win column in a while. Saturday’s defeat signals that something needs to change. Whether or not the Bears can make those adjustments remains to be seen.