Jan. 15, 2012
SALT LAKE CITY - The California Golden Bears had to grind out a win in a low-scoring game in Salt Lake City, coming away with a 63-56 victory over the Utah Utes. Redshirt sophomore forward Gennifer Brandon had her sixth double double with a 15 and 15 performance.
The Utes, who lead the Pac-12 in scoring defense, commanded the tempo of the game from the onset, with the two teams combining to scoring just 20 points in the first ten minutes of the contest.
Freshman point guard Brittany Boyd forced two turnovers in the Utes first three possessions, converting those opportunities into an early 4-0 lead. The Utes came back to take a 7-6 lead, the first of six first-half lead changes. A pull-up jumper by freshman forward Justine Hartman followed by a block and defensive rebound by Hartman gave Cal a temporary 8-7 lead.
After the Utes pulled ahead, Cal retook the lead, in the few up-tempo moments of the first half. Junior guard Layshia Clarendon smoked a feed into the low post for a layup by junior forward Talia Caldwell. After a Utah miss, the Bears blazed back down the floor where Boyd found sophomore guard Lindsay Sherbert under the hoop for a transition bucket to give Cal a 14-11 lead.
After Utah took a 15-14 lead, Cal scored six straight with a layup from Boyd and a pair of jumpers from Clarendon giving Cal a 19-14 lead. The Bears couldn't build on the lead, however, and went into the locker room with a 21-19 lead.
After neither team managed to score on their first several possessions of the second half, redshirt sophomore forward Gennifer Brandon heated things up for the Bears. Brandon got a feed from Brittany Boyd on a fastbreak, making a layup while getting fouled in the process. She hit the free throw. Right after Utah inbounded the ball, Brandon grabbed a steal and converted a layup, giving Cal a 26-19 lead. Brandon added another layup to extend the lead to 28-19 with just under 18 minutes left in the game. Brandon threw up a rainbow jumper to extend the Cal run to 10-0.
The Cal defense kept the Utes from scoring for the first 5:47 of the second half, forcing ten missed shots and two turnovers before the Utes finally scored a bucket, making it a 31-23 game with 14:13 left in the game.
Utah, fired up by a pair of three-pointers by Michelle Plouffe, were back in the game in the blink of an eye, trailing 35-31, with 11:30 left in the game. After a Utah missed three, Boyd threw a long-distance lob under the hoop to freshman forward Reshanda Gray who jumped up for the ball and got the lay-in. After another Utah miss, the Bears went for the same play again, this time Gray was fouled. She hit one free throw to give Cal a 38-31 cushion with just under ten minutes to play.
The Bears extended the lead back to double digits, 47-37, with just over six to play after Boyd got a layup. Clarendon stole the ball back, passed to Boyd who then set up Clarendon with a transition layup. After a steal by junior guard Eliza Pierre, Boyd had another assist on a transition bucket, this one coming from Brandon, who was once again fouled and converted the and-one, to put Cal up 50-37 with just over five minutes remaining.
With just over three minutes remaining, Iwalani Rodrigues drained the eighth three of the game for the Utes, making it a 53-48 game.
The Utes took advantage of a flagrant foul called against junior guard Eliza Pierre, to pull within two, 53-51, with two and a half minutes remaining. The Bears worked the shot clock and found Clarendon for a jumper to give them a 55-51 cushion. After a missed three on the Utah end, Pierre came up with the rebound. The Bears raced down the court where Boyd again found Gray under the basket to push the lead back to six, 57-51 with 1:20 left in the game.
The teams traded free throws with Cal holding a 59-53 lead with 50 seconds remaining. Utah was whistled for an offensive foul on their next possession. They immediately fouled Clarendon who hit one of two free throws. Utah lobbed an extremely offline three. Cal scrambled for the rebound with Pierre coming up with it. She was immediately fouled, made one of two, giving Cal a 61-53 lead with 30 seconds left in the game.
Utah jacked another offline three, Cal rebounded, and Gray was immediately fouled, putting Cal up 63-53 with 11.8 seconds remaining, cementing the win for the Bears. A late Utah three had little impact as Cal earned the 63-56 victory.
"I thought it was exactly like we expected it to be," said head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. "Utah is a terrific defensive team. We knew they were going to want to make us play slow and have it be a half court grinder. We kind of played right into that in the first half, but we were happy to have a lead. I thought in the second half, we tried to play a little bit more Cal basketball. We got out and pressured them, got out in transition, and really pounded it into the post. I was really proud of how our players responded." Gennifer Brandon had her sixth double double of the season. Brandon, who had 10 boards at halftime, finished the game with 15 rebounds. She scored 15 points, all of those coming in the second half.
Brittany Boyd had one of her top scoring performances with 13 points, her second-highest point total of the season. She also had six assists and three rebounds.
With the win, the Bears move into sole possession of third place in the Pac-12 with a 4-2 conference mark. They improve to 13-5 overall and have now won four games in a row. Utah falls to 8-8, 1-4 in the Pac-12.
"We are trying to be one of the elite teams in the country and in this conference and you can't do that unless you are able to win on the road," Gottlieb said. "These are not easy places to play. I thought with the extra day, our players stayed tough. They are ready to go home, for sure, but they stayed focused on the goal. We learned a lot about ourselves. We can win in a number of different ways. This just gives us confidence coming back to Haas. We hope our fans will come out and see us play Thursday night."
The Bears are back home next weekend, hosting Washington on Thursday, Jan. 19 at 7 p.m. at Haas Pavilion. The Bears will close out the week taking on Washington State on Sunday, Jan. 22 at 3:30 p.m. in another nationally televised game on Fox Sports Net and will air locally on Comcast Sports Net.
Note: Sunday's game was originally scheduled as a Saturday contest. Some schedules and all season tickets reflect the old date, so please be aware of this date change. All tickets with the old date will be honored on Sunday.