On the heels of a heartbreaking loss to No. 13 Kentucky, Cal women’s basketball faced off against Grand Canyon University in its final nonconference game of the season, looking to rebound. With daunting Pac-12 play lurking right around the corner and an emotional loss behind them, this matchup against a lesser known team on a winning streak had all the makings of a trap game.
Instead, the Bears responded with a thorough all-around effort, led by two players posting career highs, to head into the new year on a high.
Cal controlled the game with a solid, well-balanced effort, riding two banner performances to a smooth 72-53 victory. Junior Alaysia Styles (18 points) and freshman Jazlen Green (15 points) were the Bears that stepped up to post career games.
Styles set the pace for the Bears in the first half, scoring 11 of her 18 points in the opening two quarters. This included a cool midrange jumper with three seconds left in the second to cap off a 15-5 Cal run and send the Bears into the break up 12. The San Diego native is second on the Bears in scoring this year, averaging 10.9 points per game with six games in double figures.
In the second half, Green carried the load for Cal, posting 11 of her 15 points in the final two frames. This was her fourth game scoring in double figures, but likely the best of her Cal career. In addition to her career high she posted solid all around statistics, including four steals, three rebounds, two blocks and two assists.
The career high standouts were joined by two other Bears who scored in double figures. Senior center CJ West posted her second double-double of the season, putting up 12 points and 10 rebounds. Senior Jaelyn Brown, who leads Cal in scoring this season, had another stellar game. She dropped an efficient 16 points and scored in double digits for the eighth time in nine games.
The Antelopes entered the game with a middling 5-5 record, but came into the game riding a three game win streak and looking to surprise their Power Six foe. They were led by two players who each posted 14 points, senior Da’jah Daniel and freshman Jada Holland. Holland is a product of the local East Bay high school Bishop O’Dowd in Oakland, some 12 miles south of the UC Berkeley campus.
Cal kept the Antelopes at bay thanks to one of their best defensive effort of the season, forcing 19 turnovers and coming up with 14 steals, the most steals they’ve had in three seasons. Tough defense and balanced scoring by committee is something the Bears will need to keep up if they hope to succeed in a loaded Pac-12 conference.
This win caps off an impressive 8-3 nonconference record for the Bears, and should help them gain confidence in the new year.
“We talked about trying to get some momentum heading into the new year and heading into Pac-12 play, and I think we did that,” said Cal head coach Charmin Smith in an interview with Cal Athletics. “I think our players are really listening and trying to the best of their ability to do what we’re asking them to do. To be 8-3 at the end of nonconference play, I don’t think it’s something a lot of people expected. But those of us in the locker room, we feel really good about it and we look forward to moving ahead to the toughest conference play in the country.”
Cal opens its Pac-12 campaign Friday, taking on the Washington Huskies in Haas Pavilion at 7 p.m.
Benjamin Coleman covers women’s basketball. Contact him at email@example.com.