One would think that a game where star shooting guard Jayda Curry scored only 6 points would spell disaster for Cal women’s basketball. However, in the case of the Bears’ 84-71 victory over the Idaho Vandals, it was quite the opposite.
After a tough loss to Notre Dame, the Bears sought to get right against a feisty Idaho team. For Cal, the Vandals posed a different kind of challenge as opposed to the Fighting Irish. Where Notre Dame attacks teams with its post play in the paint and their superior athleticism, this Idaho team does its damage through its quick ball movement and 3-point shot making.
But unlike that Notre Dame team, Cal’s bigs outsized and outmatched Idaho’s bigs, and the Bears made their money working in the trenches. Forward Evelien Lutje-Schipholt and center Michelle Oniyah took it right to the teeth of the Idaho defense and combined for 24 points through their post play. Last game, Lutje-Schipholt talked about being more physical in the paint and the Bears walked the walk.
“We felt like we had a size advantage and that our posts could be dominant inside just by spreading the floor and posting up on the block. And we also felt like our guards could attack off the dribble and create open looks as well for people,” said head coach Charmin Smith.
From there, Cal’s offense kicked it into high octane, specifically through senior point guard Leilani MacIntosh. With Curry in foul trouble, MacIntosh facilitated much of the Bears’ offense. She finished with a monster stat line: 12 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Smith called MacIntosh the team’s floor general, praising her improvement in getting better at scoring this season.
But it wasn’t all sunshines and rainbows for Cal. In particular, Idaho guard Sydney Gandy proved to be a difficult cover as she sprung free for 15 points on five 3s. Additionally, forward Beyonce Bea muscled her way to 19 points.
“The defense is where we still have some work to do,” Smith said. “But I am proud of how we stepped up in moments where we needed to, to get those stops and to sustain that double digit lead.”
The Bears were able to keep Idaho at bay thanks in part to Peanut Tuitele and Kemery Martín, two transfer players who are slowly proving to be valuable starters each and every game. Tuitele adds to the team a very steady and anchoring presence. She went three of three from distance and also added in four rebounds and five assists.
“It took a minute for me to knock down my shot but I’ve been putting in work and for me to be able to knock down those shots, it also opens up the lanes for our guards,” Tuitele said. “It gives them more lanes to penetrate and also space for our bigs to move around.”
The spacing Tutitele talked about probably had something to do with Martín’s team-high 19 points. On eight of 15 shooting from the field, Martín scored on all three levels. Whether it was attacking the paint, pulling up from midrange or shooting from distance, she stepped up in a game where the team needed her.
“Coming off of that Notre Dame game, us as a team had that spark and that fire in us. Just kind of the attitude of ‘okay I’m ready to get back out there.’ It’s still the beginning but we’ve got a lot to prove so for me it was just stepping up in the way that I needed to,” Martín said.
Nights like this, when five players other than Jayda Curry score double digits, prove how deep this team is. It’s a work in progress but imagine how scary the Bears can be once they start firing on all cylinders.