December 28, 1998
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Sherrise Smith led a balanced California attack with a team-high 13 points as the Golden Bears defeated Vermont, 58-54, in the first round of the State Farm Classic Monday night at the O'Connell in Gainesville, Fla. Jennie Leander and Shavaki Jackson posted 12 points and Courtney Johnson added 11 pacing the Bears (6-2) to their fifth-straight victory for the first time since the 1992-93 season when they won six-consecutive contests. Vermont's record drops to 5-3, 0-1 America East.
The Bears six wins match their total of the last two seasons and brings head coach Marianne Stanley two wins shy of her 400th-career win (398-194). In 1996-97, Cal posted a 6-21 mark, and in 1997-98, the record wasn't much different at 6-22.
"I'm pleased with the win and our scoring balance" said Stanley. "It took another solid effort down the stretch to pull off the win. I'm very happy that we've already matched the win total of the previous two seasons."
With Cal owning most of the first half and a 25-19 first-half lead, Vermont closed to within one point at 31-30 with 14:57 left on guard Libby Smith's second layup of the half. That would be as close as the Catamounts would get the rest of the game. Cal's lead fluctuated within five points, but the Bears gave themselves a workable cushion after the Catamounts closed to 40-38 at the 10:02 mark. Cal then went on a 9-2 run over the next 3:59 to equal its biggest second half lead of eight at 49-41 with 6:03 remaining.
With under a minute remaining and the score 55-50, Vermont was forced to put Cal on the charity stripe. The Bears didn't help their cause, converting only two-of-five shots from the line down the stretch, but solid defense held off the Catamounts. Vermont forward Karalyn Church, the reigning America East Player of the Year, scored a game-high 23 points, including her team's last nine points of the game, but Cal forward Lauren Ashbaugh played tough denial defense with the game on the line. Vermont had the ball, down 57-54, and nine seconds on the clock, but guard Jen MacAuley was forced into a double dribble when she couldn't feed Church the ball.
California opened the game with an 11-0 run, seven points by Smith, and there was some doubt whether Vermont would make a game of it. The Catamounts tallied their first points of the afternoon on a layup by Church at the 13:53 mark. Cal built its biggest lead of the game at 18-6 at the 6:43 mark off a layup by Leander before Vermont buckled down and went on an 11-4 run to cut the Bears lead to 22-17. The teams entered the intermission with Cal ahead 25-19, Smith leading the way with seven for Cal and Church scoring 10 for Vermont
Both teams shot only 38 percent from the floor, but the Bears played another solid defensive game. In four of Cal's six wins, opponents have been held under 60 points. Of note, senior forward Kobie Kennon saw her first action of the season (out fall semester due to academic ineligibility) and gave the Bears a defensive lift with five rebounds and a steal to go with two points in 10 minutes of action. Paige Bowie, Ashbaugh, Johnson and Smith had two steals each.
Cal (RV in AP poll) meets 20th-ranked Florida tomorrow at 7 p.m. ET, in the State Farm Classic Championship. Cal entered the Dec. 28 Associated Press poll with eight votes following its upset up No. 9 Colorado State last week, 80-75. The Lady Gators advanced to their tournament's final with a 94-59 pounding of Western Michigan. Western Michigan and Vermont play in the consolation game at 4:30 p.m. ET.