Against Washington on Jan. 27, the Cal women's basketball team treated its largest home crowd of the season to 40 minutes of hard-fought, gutsy basketball. The performance showcased a Bears team that looks improved each time it takes the court.
Cal trailed by nine points at the half before outhustling the Huskies in the second period to pull ahead by five with just under eight minutes left in the game. Courtney Johnson gave the Bears a two-point edge with 1:37 left to play, but Washington answered quickly, tying the score with just seconds remaining. Cal's dominance on the offensive boards gave the Bears four chances to win in the waning moments, including a final shot by senior guard Kenya Corley with less than a tick left on the clock.
The shot didn't fall.
Corley is one of seven seniors on this year's Cal squad and has been involved in several tight games throughout her career. The close losses sting, but Corley is confident that the results aren't due to a lack of effort on the Bears part. In fact, she said, it's just a matter of time before Cal starts winning the close ones.
"We played with a lot of heart and emotion," Corley said after the Bears came up short 69-68 against the Huskies. "I was proud of how the team played and even though we didn't come out on top, we proved that we could play."
The 5-foot-8 shooting guard out of Lancaster, Calif., started playing basketball when she was in the second grade at the coaxing of her father, Dennis, who played the sport at Purdue North Central. As her career progressed, Kenya was a three-time league MVP at Quartz Hill High School and was named first team all-area by the Los Angeles Times her senior year after averaging 24 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three steals per game.
A talent on the court, Corley also excels at another sport as a Golden Bear. Last season she posted Cal's top long jump mark of the season as a member of the school's track and field team.
"I guess my biggest strength is my jumping ability," Corley said reluctantly. "I don't really have a strength. I just do some things a little better than other things."
Cal coach Caren Horstmeyer is quick to point out Corley's strengths. Following the Washington game, Horstmeyer said Corley is one of the Pac-10's most athletic players who can drive hard to the basket or pull up for an open jumper.
The guard's effort against Washington was another example of the consistent play that Corley has demonstrated throughout this season and her career. While starting every game during the last two seasons, she has steadily improved her numbers. As of Feb. 5, Corley is averaging 12.3 points per game and is Cal's second leading scorer. She's led the Bears in scoring five times this season and against UCLA last Sunday, Corley posted a career-high 25 points en route to a 58-57 Bears win.
After this most recent trip to Southern California, the Bears are 4-5 in the Pac-10 after defeating both USC and UCLA. But Corley recognizes that record is somewhat misleading. Aside from the loss against Oregon on Jan. 11, Cal hasn't lost a conference game by more than 11 points this season.
"Our team chemistry is really strong," Corley said. "We've just got to keep doing what we've been doing and we'll get to where we want to be."
Coach Horstmeyer was understandably disappointed following the one-point loss against the Huskies. It was a game, she said, that the Bears should have won.
"In a game that I felt for the first time all year that we deserved to beat Washington and for whatever reason we didn't," she said. "Washington escaped with a lucky win and that's when we've got to convert some shots in the last 10 seconds of the ballgame." Although Corley missed the game's final shot, she was a primary reason that the Bears had a chance to win at all. For her part Corley scored 20 points, grabbed four rebounds and dished three assists against the Huskies.
But what isn't shown in the box score is the role Corley has taken as a leader for the younger Cal players.
"As a senior I have to watch what I do because I want to be a leader," Corley said. "I hope to be a role model and a positive force on and off the court."
As the second half of the Pac-10 season gets underway, Corley sees the Bears keeping pace with the rest of the conference by continuing to play hard and finding ways to win close games.
"Our season didn't start off that well, but we're putting the pieces together and we should finish strong," Corley said.