A sneaky cut and finish at the rim by Kemery Martin, then her silky three-pointer on the next play, sent Cal off to the races in the opening minutes. Powering through No. 25 USC’s initial defensive disruption, the Bears produced a quality first half of basketball.
Efficient ball movement and strategic use of the paint helped Cal find a comfortable rhythm. While the Trojans were productive on the low block offensively — with forward Kadi Sissoko converting 14 points and the team generating 18 points in the paint — Cal still asserted itself in the battle of the boards. The Bears secured 18 rebounds, including five on the offensive end, to produce additional possessions.
As the half continued, the blue and gold did not shy away from utilizing the low block in their offensive sets, routinely getting the ball inside then kicking out to open shooters. This effective ball movement enabled the Bears to capitalize on their shooting rhythm. Martin and Jayda Curry led the way for Cal, each shooting perfectly from beyond the arc on five attempts in the first half.
Energized momentum under pressure
The third quarter made for a back-and-forth tussle, featuring numerous ties and lead changes. Coming out of the locker room, the Bears built on their first-half momentum, as they set a quick pace in the transition game that rattled the Trojans and caused several unforced errors. Well-timed three-balls and clutch and-one plays kept the energy in Haas Pavilion high, driving the Bears’ composed, consistent play.
Down to the wire
With one minute to play, the Bears were just two points shy of the Trojans, 71-73. Curry’s confident drive to the hoop tied the contest, and then a defensive stop and shot clock violation kept the Trojans empty-handed on their next possession. USC kept Curry from getting a shot off in the final seconds to force overtime.
The overtime period had the fans in Haas Pavilion loud on their feet. Big buckets from Michelle Onyiah and lockdown defense guided the Bears to a hard fought victory. Composed momentum reigned supreme for Cal, as it notched its fourth Pac-12 victory.
Cal’s game MVP
A well-rounded team effort makes it difficult to pinpoint just one MVP. Forward Evelien Lutje Schipholt battled USC’s impressive backcourt to convert 14 points and grab eight boards. Martin shot the basketball well from start to finish and, of course, reliable facilitator Leilani McIntosh delivered quality ball movement on her Senior Day.
Even given an all-around production, Curry took the spotlight for the Bears in her 50th career start. Supplying 27 points on 47% shooting from the field and a perfect 4-6 from downtown, Curry asserted herself as the Bears’ offensive leader. Her leadership and high-IQ plays also created opportunities for the Bears, as her energy appeared contagious on the court.
Cal and USC kept identical pace, finishing all four quarters of regulation on level terms.
Far too often, the blue and gold show fleeting glimpses of beautiful play. The Bears have consistently competed for only halves or quarters of match-ups this season, if at all, so today’s 40 minutes of back-and-forth action came as a surprise. Continuous momentum all while conceding Sissoko’s 30 piece was an unprecedented feat for the Bears.
No. 4 Utah awaits the Bears on Thursday as Pac-12 play wraps up. Earlier this season, the Utes’ handled Cal decisively by a 25-point margin. Led by 6’2” forward Alissa Pili, averaging 20.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, Utah is known not only to take command down low but also pose a defiant threat shooting from beyond the arc. An uphill battle awaits the Bears in Salt Lake City.