BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) – California coach Lindsay Gottlieb learned the seventh-ranked Golden Bears are pretty good, even at their worst.
Call it another step in the maturation process for one of the Pac-12’s most surprising teams this season.
Gennifer Brandon had 13 points, 10 rebounds and a key block with 20 seconds left as Cal rallied from 16 points down in the first half to beat No. 20 Colorado 59-56 on Friday night.
“This really speaks to our resolve and believing that we can win any which way,” Gottlieb said after the Golden Bears overcame their worst shooting half of the season to complete a season sweep of the Buffaloes. “We were exposed in the things that can tend to be our weaknesses one at a time, and they all came at once. But I loved the fact that we hung in there. The team stayed locked in.”
The Bears (16-2, 6-1 Pac-12) have done a pretty good job of that lately. The win over Colorado marked Cal’s fourth over a ranked team in the last three weeks and fifth overall, a school record.
Cal edged Colorado 53-49 on Jan. 6 in a game decided in the final moments. The Bears needed to sweat out a last-second shot by the Buffaloes in that one, too.
This time it was Cal that needed to come back late.
The Bears were down 32-16 with 4 minutes left in the first half but went on an 18-2 run extending into the second half. Then they went on two more big runs to secure the victory.
Colorado didn’t go quietly.
After Brittany Boyd scored on consecutive trips down the floor to put Cal up 58-54, Jen Reese made a layup to cut the gap in half. Boyd then missed two short shots but Colorado’s Arielle Roberson missed a hook shot and had a layup blocked by Brandon with 20 seconds left.
The Buffaloes, off to their best start in nine years, had one final shot but Brittany Wilson’s 3-point attempt was off.
“I knew we were going to knock down shots,” Boyd said. “Once we saw somebody make a play, it went over and everybody started making plays.”
Laysia Clarendon had 13 points and five rebounds while Boyd scored 10 for Cal, which remained tied with Stanford for first place in the Pac-12.
The Bears did it by beating the Buffaloes at their own game.
Colorado went into the game with the Pac-12’s top scoring defense and extended its impressive streak of holding opponents under 60 points to nine straight games. But Cal’s defense was equally impressive in the second half, particularly down the stretch when the Buffaloes (15-3, 4-3) were held scoreless over the final 1:49.
“They upped their pressure and they sped us up, but I liked how we responded,” Colorado coach Linda Lappe said. “For us to regain our composure in the last 8 minutes was a huge stepping stone for us.”
It was the complete opposite in the first half.
Wilson scored nine straight points and Lexy Kresl made a 3-pointer to give Colorado a 32-16 lead. The Buffaloes had little problem against Cal’s zone defense, beating the Bears both inside and from the perimeter.
As good as its offense looked, Colorado’s defense made the biggest difference in the first half.
The Buffaloes held Cal to 22.9 percent shooting, allowed only three baskets over the final 9 minutes and gave up just four second-chance points even though the Bears grabbed 16 offensive rebounds.
Cal, which has played five ranked teams in the last three weeks, managed an 8-0 run to close out the half but still trailed 32-24 at the break.
Clarendon, the Bears’ leading scorer, missed six of her first seven shots from the floor but had four points as part of a 10-2 run early in the second half that tied the game 34-all.
Brandon later had eight points during an 11-2 spurt to give Cal a 45-41 lead with 10:19 remaining. It stayed close the rest of the way until Clarendon’s clinching free throw with 14.8 seconds left.
Wilson had 11 points and five rebounds but missed the potential game-tying shot as time expired, ending a four-game winning streak for the Buffaloes.
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