On paper, Cal women’s basketball’s 90-79 loss to No. 9 Notre Dame doesn’t do justice to the Bears’ effort in the game. While the Fighting Irish led throughout most of the game, the Bears never went away. Even when faced with a 14-point deficit, Cal fought back and cut the lead to 3 late in the third quarter.
It just couldn’t complete the comeback. And despite hanging tough with a top-10 team in the country, that is not satisfactory for this team.
“We wanted to win, we came here to win — we didn’t come here to feel good,” head coach Charmin Smith said.
Smith’s words echoed the sentiment that the Bears aren’t satisfied with small victories.
While a loss is a loss, there is a ton to be learned from this high-level matchup. Jayda Curry led all scorers with 24 points, shooting 4-9 from the three-point line. Curry’s scoring output kept the Bears close in the first quarter; the sophomore guard scored 11 points on 4-5 shooting to start the game but was held quiet for a long stretch afterwards. When Curry’s offense stalled, so did Cal’s offense and Notre Dame was able to build a sizable lead.
But when Curry was feeling it, her scoring was electrifying.
“She made some move and I turned to (assistant coach) Heidi (Heintz) and said, ‘she’s really good, yes she is,’” Smith said. “Jayda is a competitor and I know that she’d give up all 24 of her points if it meant that we’d win.”
It’s hard to pinpoint which exact move Smith was talking about, but Curry had one high-arching shot on the wing over two defenders to beat the buzzer that ignited the Bears’ fans in the crowd.
Defensively, it was difficult for the Bears to fend off the Notre Dame bigs on the inside. Notre Dame forwards Maddy Westbeld and Kylee Watson punished Cal’s interior defenders whenever they got the ball in the paint, collecting 15 and 12 points, respectively. Even off the bench, center Lauren Ebo outsized Cal’s much smaller centers and had them sealed off on several post plays.
It wasn’t for a lack of physicality. As the game progressed, the Bears started to figure out how to contain the bigs down low. While Notre Dame notched 24 points in the paint in the first half, the Bears only allowed 12 in the second half thanks in part to their adjustments to the physicality of the game.
“We were out there fighting,” said starting forward Evelien Lutje Schipholt. “Like Charmin (Smith) said, we were a little timid in the beginning — we could have came out and been more physical from the jump. They hit us first, literally. But I think we can come out and show that we can play physical too and that’s the game I like to play.”
The interior disadvantage forced the Bears to play a 2-3 zone which allowed them to double team the paint but also made for difficult rebounds. Notre Dame out-rebounded Cal 42 to 26. Ultimately, it felt like Notre Dame star guard Olivia Miles was able to get whatever she wanted whenever she attacked the rim. She finished with a double-double on 13 points and 10 assists, fending off every blue and gold comeback attempt.
Playing Notre Dame tough was an encouraging sign for the Bears moving forward. But as coach Smith said, they are not encouraged by the loss.
“We played with the No. 9 team in the country, our goal was to beat the No. 9 team in the country; we’re frustrated, we’re disappointed and we know this will make us better moving forward.”