Cal women inspire 3,000 children with blowout of Washington State

One of Cal head women’s basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb keys for Friday’s game was neither a statistic nor a schematic.

Instead, she wrote a quote on the pregame board: “Be who you would have wanted to see when you were a little kid.”

The Bears played like a bunch of All-Stars in front of about 3,000 elementary and middle school students at Haas Pavilion and darted away from Washington State for a much-needed 77-63 victory.

Consider this rung No. 1 of climbing out of the conference’s bottom quarter for Cal (11-5, 2-3 Pac-12), which had lost five of its past six games.

In four of those losses, the Bears had a lead or were tied in the final minute. They didn’t leave anything to chance Friday, extending a seven-point lead to 77-54 in a span of 122 seconds.

“The last couple of games, we’ve just been battling one- or two- point games,” senior Kristine Anigwe said. “I felt like we really wanted to create a lead and get comfortable.”

The 6-foot-4 forward/center made sure the Bears had plenty of separation, piling up 29 points on 11-of-18 shooting to go along with 23 rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals. Seven of her points — and six of Jaelyn Brown’s 12 — came during Cal’s 18-2 fourth-quarter, game-sealing run.

The Bears, who also got double-digit scoring from Asha Thomas (13) and Recee Caldwell (10 and five assists, three rebounds), outrebounded Washington State (7-10, 2-4) by 13, outscored them by 14 in the paint and 10 on second-chance points and played one of their better defensive games in a month.

The Cougars shot just 39.1 percent from the floor, the lowest Cal has yielded since limiting Santa Barbara to 27.9 percent shooting Dec. 16. That 69-45 victory over the Gauchos was the last before the Bears went into their 1-5 funk.

“This is a really good basketball team, and we have a lot of really high goals,” Gottlieb said. “It’s disappointing to have lost any games, but I also had to reset and remind them that it’s such a long season. The more we can get in the win column, the closer you get to where you want to be. It’s important to not dwell too much on what has happened, but instead, keep getting better and looking forward. We have an opportunity to win every game that’s in front of us.”

Especially if they continue to play like they did Friday.

Cal led for 14½ minutes — and by as many as 11 points — in the first half. Anigwe secured her 16th straight double-double to open the season with a three-point play that gave the Bears a 34-23 lead with 46 seconds left before halftime.

Borislava Hristova’s layup with 6:37 remaining in the game trimmed Cal’s lead to 59-52, which seemingly sparked the Bears. They allowed only one field goal during the next 4:20 and were able to allow most the starters to watch the final minutes from the bench.

“We fed off (the students’) energy,” Caldwell said. “When we went through that point in the fourth when we really stretched it out, we couldn’t hear ourselves on defense. We fed off that energy, and it really helped us.”

Gottlieb said: “I love the kids’ day. It’s really great to expose them to what strong, powerful female athletes can do, and hopefully, it inspired them to what they can do.”

Rusty Simmons is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: rsimmons@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @Rusty_SFChron

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/collegesports/article/Cal-women-s-basketball-inspires-3-000-children-13545394.php.

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