Over the first six games of the season, the Bears didn’t just win, they established a culture. After a 2020-21 season of constant loss and injury, the team appeared to be filled with joy. This spirit led them to outhustle, outplay and outscore their first six opponents. After a frustrating loss to Ole Miss last week, the Bears had a chance to right the ship. Instead, they veered even harder in the wrong direction.
Cal lost 84-67 to Arkansas on Sunday in a game littered with technical fouls, inconsistent defense and overall troubling trends. There was a distinct lack of smiles and celebrations on the bench for the Bears. The game started off well, as Cal went on a 10-2 run to end the first quarter with a lead. The Bears were exchanging runs with the Razorbacks until a pivotal sequence in the second quarter. Jadyn Bush was called for a technical foul, which gave Arkansas four free throws and possession. That one play caused a pivotal 6-point swing. Then, just a few possessions later, the Bears received another technical when they tried to make substitutions at a time that was not authorized.
“For some reason, we were penalized that the official didn’t know the table and the other signal for someone to come in the game,” Smith said. “They gave them two free throws and the ball for that.”
Smith remarked that those two technicals “threw us out of rhythm.” It certainly didn’t help when Cal received a third technical in the third quarter when an assistant coach stepped onto the court after Jayda Curry didn’t get a whistle after she appeared to be knocked over on a 3-point attempt.
Cal didn’t only get into foul trouble because of technicals. Cumulatively, the Razorbacks attempted 32 free throws compared to the Bears’ 12. This differential was a prime reason for Arkansas’ victory, as its 29 successful free throws accounted for over a third of its points. And while this appears unbalanced, it wasn’t solely the fault of the referees. Smith criticized her team’s “extremely poor” defense after the game.
“Less fouls would be great. (We need to be) moving our feet instead of reaching, being in the right place earlier so that we don’t have to force rotations. We were slow … to be where we were supposed to be.”
Despite these defensive woes, Cal would have had a chance to win the game if it wasn’t for the stellar play of Makayla Daniels. Daniels, a 5’8” junior, had been shooting 23.5% from 3-point range going into the game. But against the Bears, she went four for six from deep in the midst of a hyperefficient 32 points on 11-15 shooting from the field. Coach Smith gave Daniels credit while also realizing her team shouldn’t have allowed her to have a career night.
“I think she’s a great player. … Not to take away anything from her. … I think we could’ve made the night tough for her,” Smith said. “When you let someone get going, it’s hard to slow them down.”
Just like it’s hard to slow down a player when they’re hot, it’s hard to slow down a team’s regression in the middle of a season. But the Bears must try to put this game behind them and rebound to being the same team they were at the beginning of the year. They’ll get their first chance to do so Saturday against McNeese State at Haas Pavilion.
Casey Grae covers women’s basketball. Contact him at email@example.com.