Three straight losses.
A daunting schedule ahead.
The star player in foul trouble.
If the Cal women’s basketball team felt the pressure mounting Sunday afternoon, it sure didn’t show as the Bears rediscovered how to flip a switch and raced away from USC at Haas Pavilion 66-59.
The No. 18 Bears (10-3, 1-1 Pac-12) trailed for only 14 seconds, led by as many as 18 points and used a 22-4 run that spanned the second and third quarters to right a ship that had appeared headed for troubled waters.
After a tremendous comeback effort that fell short against top-ranked Connecticut, Cal had been unable to hold onto leads in the final minute of regulation in the past two games. The Bears made sure they didn’t lose four in a row for the first time since Feb. 10-19, 2017.
Cal dominated the glass, generally took USC’s best player out of the game, and showed great trust in Kristine Anigwe. The senior forward/center finished with 21 points and 16 rebounds, playing 17 minutes between picking up two early fouls and finally being whistled for her fourth in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.
USC (10-4, 0-3) got a career-high 36 points from Mariya Moore, but her sister, Minyon, who averages 15 points per game and had only one other single-digit game this season, was limited to six points on 2-of-12 shooting.
It was a path toward healing for the Bears on multiple fronts. Cal had a pregame moment of silence for sophomore defensive back Bryce Turner, who died Saturday after being hospitalized for almost a week following a “medical emergency” during a non-team workout near his Southern California home.
This was an important victory over Cal, which was supposed to be amid the less demanding portion of the arduous Pac-12 trek. The Bears open conference play against only one ranked opponent in the first eight games.
From Jan. 31-Feb. 10, the Bears play four straight games against teams ranked among the nation’s top 11. They played with a sense of urgency that the schedule mandated.
Cal trailed for only 14 seconds in the first quarter and led by as many as eight while managing Anigwe’s foul trouble. She picked up her second foul four minutes into the game, but after a one-minute break, she played the quarter’s final five minutes without picking up a third.
The Bears led 16-9 on a Recee Caldwell three-pointer with 3:23 left in the first quarter, but Mariya Moore made two three-pointers sandwiched around an Anigwe layup to trim USC’s deficit to 18-15 heading in the second quarter.
With three minutes remaining in the second quarter, Anigwe had already secured her 13th straight double-double to open the season, but her dominance equated to only a three-point lead. Mariya Moore matched her season high with 18 points, knocking down a three-pointer that tied it 29-29 with 2:06 to play in the half.
But Cal closed the frame on a 7-0 run, including a Thomas three-pointer that sent the Bears into the halftime locker room with a 35-29 lead. Cal multiplied that momentum in the third quarter, using a 15-4 run highlighted by eight Anigwe points to bump the advantage to 51-33.
Anigwe fouled out with 459 remaining, and USC tried to turn the blowout into another sweat-jerker. But after the Trojans trimmed their deficit to 63-59 on five straight points by Mariya Moore with 37 seconds left, Asha Thomas (12 points) put the game away with free throws.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/collegesports/article/Cal-women-s-basketball-rights-ship-with-win-13512705.php.