Cal women's baskebtall holds on for a win over USC
Leilani McIntosh hits the winner in a taut thriller in Los Angeles
Living and dying behind a high usage, ball dominant freshman is an adventurous way to play basketball.
One minute, she’s drawing a foul and sinking two free throws, then nailing a beautiful high arcing three to give your team a 6 point lead.
The next minute she’s committing a lazy turnover that lets USC get an easy fast break bucket and then forcing two straight contested shots on iffy looks as USC goes on an 8-0 run to take a two point lead.
The next minute, she has the court presence to attack and draw a foul to a) get to the line to tie the game and b) earn Cal a precious two-for-one possession.
And then, with the game on the line, with everybody on USC expecting Cal to go to Curry because in the last five minutes of the game exactly one Cal shot had been attempted by anybody but Curry . . . she’s a decoy that gets double teamed, opening up space for her teammates:
Earlier in the year I expressed concern that Cal was perhaps too reliant on Jayda Curry for offense. And while I still think that from time to time for this particular season, I’ve come around to a different line of thinking. Let’s stipulate:
Jayda Curry is a preternaturally gifted basketball player.
This year is about development as Charmin Smith and company try to build the next great Cal team.
The next great Cal team will likely come with Curry as the offensive fulcrum
Therefore, you let her run the show yesterday, today, and tomorrow, because even if it means occasionally taking her lumps, it’s critical experience for the future. And if you can draw up a play at the very end of the game to take advantage of how much defensive attention she gets? All the better.
USC did a better job on Curry than a bunch of other teams (Stanford, oddly, included). They threw their best defenders at Curry, and often double teamed with a big when Cal attempted to run screens for Curry, who struggled to pass over the double team. The result was an ugly 5-19 shooting line, but the strategy was a double edged sword. USC’s physicality (and Curry’s natural skill at drawing fouls) meant a 9/10 performance from the line.
Meanwhile, Leilani McIntosh was the other offensive star of the game. With so much focus going to Curry, she found space to drive the lane more frequently and scored 15 points on 11 shots with three assists and no turnovers. With Curry gradually proving her bona fides against Pac-12 competition, McIntosh will often be the player who has to step up when defenses try to take the freshman away, and that’s exactly what happened against USC.
USC doesn’t have a particularly good offense. They can pound the ball inside to Jordyn Jenkins, and they’re a solid offensive rebounding team, but they turn it over a lot and don’t have any shooting*. So Cal’s defensive performance has to be viewed with that in mind.
Still, playing on the road, Cal held USC to .86 points/possession, well below USC’s season average. For a team that has struggled on defense generally and in each of their three games vs. Pac-12 competition, that means something.
And Cal pulled that off mostly by taking away what USC does best. The Trojans shot a miserable 35% on their two point shots. Jenkins got hers, but everybody else struggled and lots of possessions ended with USC’s guards putting up the kind of shots Cal wanted them to take. Cal mixed up their defenses, and while I’m very, very wary of using the zone against a team that can shoot, it worked wonders against USC.
It was a team-wide defensive effort, with Onyiah, Samb, and Schipholt all spending time on Jenkins and all of Cal’s guards cheating inside frequently. USC may have been a particularly good matchup for Cal’s defensive strengths and weaknesses, but you’ve got to start somewhere.
*A Lindsay Gottlieb team without three point shooters? Well I never!
Phew. In one wonderful game the Bears simultaneously 1. played a whole actual game and 2. got their first Pac-12 win of the season. The entire month of January had been defined by games that were either cancelled, fatally compromised by player absences, or against teams with NCAA tournament aspirations that Cal isn’t really ready to compete with.
But it was still an open question how well Cal would fare against teams in the lower half of the conference. Going on the road to win one is a good sign for the rest of the season.
And on the bright side, there aren’t many games left on the schedule that look super intimidating. Oregon on the road probably won’t be much fun, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cal win any of the other six games left before the Pac-12 tournament.
So it’s time to sit back and enjoy watching the young Bears get some reps in a series of games that will hopefully allow them to show their potential. See you Sunday!
Nick and his WBB coverage is 100% of the reason I subscribe to this site. Thank you Nick for this. And thank you Leilani for tonight.
Nice to have women's bball coverage back on a regular basis. Really nice to get a non conference road win.