Cal forward Gennifer Brandon could barely speak after Friday night's season-opener at Haas Pavilion. Plagued by a cold, her soft-spoken comments seemed out of place as the representative of a team that just manhandled an inferior opponent.
Brandon had 17 points and 10 rebounds and the Bears had five players score in double-figures in an 80-48 rout in front of 3,528 enthusiastic fans. The product looked a lot like last year - the Bears outrebounded the Mountain Hawks 53-35, registered 12 steals and turned 18 turnovers into 20 points.
"Overall we did pretty well for our first game that counts," Brandon said softly in the postgame interview room. "We played together. We played sloppy at times but we maintained our goal to sustain it through 40 minutes
"I sound creepy," she added apologetically.
The Bears were in no position to make apologies after overwhelming Lehigh with its superior athleticism. Cal was especially dominant on defense, holding the Mountain Hawks scoreless for over six minutes to begin the game.
When Marybeth Egan nailed a 3-pointer for Lehigh's first points at the 13:45 mark of the first half, the Bears already had a 14-0 lead.
"We started out with a ton of energy," Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. "We were really good defensively in the first half. It was a nice way to start the season."
Sophomore point guard Brittany Boyd added 16 points while senior guard Layshia Clarendon had 14 points. Reshanda Gray had 10 points and seven rebounds and Afure Jemerigbe scored 10 as well.
The Bears went 25-10 last season and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Big things are expected this season of Cal, which didn't graduate anybody and began the season ranked 13th in the Associated Press preseason top 25.
Last year's success was predicated on athleticism and winning the battle of the boards, two assets that were displayed prominently Friday.
"I think we always start out wanting to out-athlete people," Gottlieb said. "Now we want to out-execute them, too. We want to be a better team with execution, but our bread and butter will always be to run down the court faster than the other team."
There is no question it was sloppy at times, but that's bound to happen in a lopsided game and in a first game. Defense is typically sharper than offense, and that was the case for the Bears.
Then again, when you corral 22 offensive rebounds that lead to 22 second-chance points, it doesn't feel quite as sloppy.
"The good thing is we win a game by 30 points and we are already talking about what we need to do better," Gottlieb said. "We're ready to go for practice tomorrow."
For Brandon and her teammates, it's been an especially long offseason. While losing to Notre Dame in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season was tough, it also made the Bears hungrier and excited for the future. Cal believes it can be better this season not only because everyone is back, but because everyone will be better. Friday was the first chance to prove it.
"We love each other, we play for each other, we want the best for each other," Brandon said. "We're a family. We're sisters. I think that love is what drives us to do well on the court."