In the post-game press conference after the University of Washington's tough 75-68 overtime loss against the University of California, media members asked about the Huskies' defense, offensive schemes, and the fact that the Huskies both outshot and outrebounded the Golden Bears.
But for Washington coach Tia Jackson none of that mattered -- stats, schemes, matchups. It all came down to the gutsy performance of one "unreal" All-American on Sunday afternoon: Cal guard Alexis Gray-Lawson.
"We did a good job battling back on the boards because they were coming at us pretty strong," said Jackson. "But when you're playing an All-American like Alexis she can at any moment take control of the game and make contested 25-footers. I would love to say they were wide open, but they were not. It's a hard way to go down."
After Washington got a big play from their star Sami Whitcomb to send the game into overtime with a three pointer from the corner -- perhaps a missed assignment by Gray-Lawson according to Cal coach Joanne Boyle -- Gray-Lawson kept it going in the extra period, scoring 5 of Cal's 9 overtime points and finishing with 35 on 11-18 shooting.
All on a painful sprained ankle.
"[It was] painful, but my teammates would do it for me, so I gotta do it for them," said Gray-Lawson, who walked out of the locker room aided by a friend. "My coach expects a lot of me and she taught me how to take pain. It is what it is sometimes."
Although people will focus on the points, the entirety of her line was impressive: 8 rebounds -- 7 offensive -- and 5-8 from the three-point line, most of them contested as Jackson noted.
However, although Gray-Lawson's performance was spectacular and undoubtedly the deciding factor of this game, there is a statistical explanation for what happened, that starts with why her performance was so efficient: she had 12 of the team's 31 free throws.
Four Factors for Washington vs. Cal
Lawson scored 21 of her 35 points in the 2nd half and overtime and got 10 of her free throw attempts in that time span after getting only 2 free throw attempts in the first half due to foul trouble.
But Lawson wasn't the only one to see an increase in free throw shooting in the latter pars of the game -- the entire team did.
So although both teams shot well and UW outrebounded Cal in the second half, it might first appear that Cal pulled away almost entirely due to free throws, with free throw rates of 80+ in the second half and overtime. However, turnovers made a huge difference as well.
In their previous contest in Berkeley, Washington had 30 turnovers, so cutting that down was a focal point for them entering this game.
"It was a 17-point spread at their place but this was one that got away from us there, so we wanted to prove that we were not that team," said Jackson. "I think for the most part we did that -- we wanted to pay them back a little bit. I think we handled their pressure a little bit, we had a couple hiccups, but I think we handled their pressure a lot better. I don't think we had 30 turnovers and they did the exact same thing the did [in the last game]. So much improved there, much improved on the rebounding end and we just needed this game -- we need this game bad and I think we deserved it."
Yet while Washington did better with the turnovers on their end, so did Cal. After turning the ball over 13 times in the first half, they only turned it over 3 times for the rest of the game, with a turnover percentage just under 4% in the second half. Even with Gray-Lawson sidelined for portions of the second half due to her ankle sprain, Cal protected the ball extremely well.
Strong shooting from the field, solid use of possessions, and the free throw shooting made Cal's second half on Sunday afternoon easily one of their best of the conference season, though Gray-Lawson dominated. That said, the somewhat erratic play -- not only half to half, but also game to game -- is a recurring theme for this young team, according to Boyle.
"Just tonight -- just down a big -- I thought we needed to press a little bit earlier and they just got too excited and they were just trying to take the game from the first 5 or 10 minutes of the game," said Boyle. "We got too over-anxious with fouling and putting them on the free throw line and then we make it a game that way. So we just gotta be smart about that kind of play."
As the coach of a young team, Boyle says the answer is just to "play through it".
"Hopefully by late-February you're a little bit more mature, but- yeah- we -, you know, we're this: this is us right now," said Boyle. "And Lexi's a calming factor for us in that. A fifth year senior and she's the one who can take us through that and settle us down and get us a point when we need to and it's been crucial to have her."
- Boyle said that Gray-Lawson's injury was an ankle sprain, which -- fortunately -- is not the reaggravation of an old injury.
- Boyle mentioned that one big stayed home with a concussion and looking at their roster, that was apparently freshman center Brenna Heater.