Cal women off to best start in program history with win over George Washington

Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

The California Golden Bears defeated the George Washington Colonials 70-43 tonight to improve to 10-1, the best record in program history. Over at SB Nation's Golden State Warriors site Golden State of Mind I've been posting my notes from the games I cover, in part as a discussion starter and in part as a placeholder until I sort out my thoughts from the game. Tonight, I'll start doing the same for Swish Appeal, beginning with my running impressions from tonight's game at Haas Pavilion.

  • The scout on the Golden Bears appears to be pretty clear by now: everybody is sitting in a 2-3 zone and willing to gamble on missing a rotation rather than getting punished down low on post-ups. The problem: Cal has been extremely patient in non-conference play

  • The Colonials have game planned for Cal as well as anyone. They're attacking Cal offensively when they overplay on the perimeter and they're patient in trying to get efficient scoring opportunities.

  • But Cal once again started this game by dominating the boards. George Washington has some size, but not quite the strength that Cal has in the paint and they're getting punished for it.

  • Cal has forced GW late into the clock on a number of possessions. Solid defensive pressure on the guards makes it hard for GW to even get into their offense and equally difficult to make the skip pass when all the strong side options are shut down.

  • Boyd has more lost assists opportunities in a half - assists she didn't credited for because the shot missed - than many point guards pick up total in a game. It's not always the spectacular play either - on many occasions it's just the simple plays like reversing the ball or quickly moving the ball to an open player when she receives it. For whatever teams gain in playing zone to negate Cal's quickness, Boyd counters by carving it up with her court vision.

  • George Washington coach Jonathan Tsipsis got T'd up with 25.9 left for talking to the ref about what he thought was the second time she missed the foul call. It was something you could certainly see developing as he stomped his foot, made his point once and then motioned toward the ref and made his point more forcefully and a bit louder. Tough thing to get T'd up for, but the ref had clearly had enough.

  • The weird thing about this game is that although GW is actually playing Cal as well as almost anyone strategically, they can't seem to gain any ground on the scoreboard. While Cal is hurting them in the paint, the turnover story is even more telling. Cal has a 12 point advantage in points off turnovers in a 39-22 game.

  • Cal started both halves poorly leading to timeouts after 2.5 minutes. In the first half, transition defense was a bit of a struggle that precipitated the timeout. In the second half, it was really a matter of poor execution and possibly some lingering Christmas break hangover.

  • You wouldn't know GW was down from watching their bench: they're one of the more spirited teams I've seen this season. It really showed up defensively at the end of the game when they were still going after it despite the game being out of reach.

  • Former Cal guard Courtney Johnson (1997-2001) was honored during a timeout with 15:55 left in the second half.

  • To the previous comments about how GW is playing tonight, it's no surprise that they were threatening to cut the game to single digits. The effort was there, but they're struggling to contend the with the size of Cal inside and the speed around the perimeter.

  • The problem for the Colonials isn't just the fact of their turnovers but the type of turnovers they're making. They made live ball turnovers on three straight possessions against Cal's trapping full court pressure, meaning that Cal could just turn around and score without them really even initiating an offense. It was sort of like watching a soccer game where one team can't clear the ball out of their half of the field. Except Cal was turning those possessions into points.

  • I've always loved Eliza Pierre's game, but Afure Jemerigbe has also grown on me this year. Don't ask me to defend this with stats, because - like Pierre - that's not where her impact shows up. She's just a player who knows her role, works hard on defense, and rarely commits what you'd call a bad mistake.

  • The streak of turnovers really seemed to kill GW's spirit after it looked like they'd be able to keep this close. Cal just kept going at it and the lead slowly ballooned to the point of the game just being out of reach.

  • Brittany Boyd struggled a bit in a way that I haven't quite seen before. She came out of the game late in the second half and both Charmin Smith and coach Gottlieb chatted with her on the bench. Not a big deal - everyone has off games - but this one was noticeable, particularly on the offensive end.

  • Jemerigbe made an outstanding read on a fastbreak for a layup to Gennifer Brandon. Just wanted to add some support to my earlier sentiment about her.

  • The game just got ugly by the 3:45 mark: nobody even seemed to want the ball. It was just rolling along on the floor and nobody could seem to pick the thing up. But it was an opportunity for Pierre to show off her interminable hustle as she chased after the ball at full speed. But still, the game was over for me at that point.

  • Caldwell has been absolutely dominant tonight. Right now I'm not sure who in the Pac-12 can guard her. Cal rarely "runs plays" for Caldwell and she's headed toward another double-double.

  • Throughout the game I was wondering why it felt like I had just seen referee Brenda Pantoja recently. I figured it out when shuffling through my bag looking for Cal's game notes: I had just seen her the night before officiating the Santa Cruz Warriors' game against the Springfield Armor in the NBA D-League.
  • After the game media spoke with Caldwell, Clarendon, and Gottlieb for Cal and coach Jonathan Tsipis for GW.

  • Despite the historic 10-1 start, everyone on Cal's end was simply focused on the present, even if that sounds cliché: despite all the emotion that has to be present for the senior class after their roller coaster time in Berkeley, their demeanor was even-keel, which is exactly what you'd hope from a champion.

  • I asked coach Gottlieb about Boyd's performance tonight, specifically the moment when she pulled her out of the game with both coaches chatting with her on the bench. She said that she always has something to say to her young point guard, but tonight it was just that she needed to remain focused despite an off game (she was 3-for-11 with 4 turnovers to only 3 assists) and continue to lead even when things aren't going well individually.

  • Gottlieb also mentioned the team's balance, which was a great quote for the story I'm going for (and in all likelihood it will be published, at least in part, elsewhere before I get my story done). If there is anything that defines this team, that's it. What non-conference play has proven is that it's extremely difficult to take away all of this team's strengths. It's tempting to say impossible. That of course leads to a lingering question about their confidence in beating Stanford, but having already repeated multiple times that they were focused on the day-to-day, nobody asked. But this year Cal might be less of a challenger for the Pac-12 and more of a legit contender along with Stanford. And when is the last time anyone could say that someone other than Stanford could really vie for the title? This year, things might be settled early as the teams will have played both of their head-to-head games by mid-January.

  • Clarendon also entered the program's top 10 list for scoring tonight. Caldwell is now 7th all-time in rebounding.
  • I'm just going to throw this out here in passing because it's something that has been sitting in the back of my mind for some time now: What chance does Layshia Clarendon have to get drafted in the 2013 WNBA Draft? She's a solid, though not deadly 3-point shooter. Her ball handling efficiency isn't great, but the key thing is her 2-point percentage: entering tonight's game, she was at around 48%, right in the range for a solid WNBA prospect. And she's attacking the basket extremely well this season with Boyd handling point guard duties unlike Clarendon's freshman and sophomore years. It's a deep draft this year and Cal would probably have to go deep in the tournament for her to get noticed, but I'm keeping that in mind.
  • Tsipsis, who was at Notre Dame last season, complimented Cal on how much they improved since he last saw them at Notre Dame last year in the NCAA tournament. He specifically referenced the guards in terms of their patience for that improvement. The bigs, of course, have just continued to do their thing in the paint.
  • Tsipsis also discussed the upcoming A-10 season, which is a conference worth paying attention to despite the fact that it rarely gets national attention as a whole. He's new so he couldn't really give the type of breakdown of the conference that I got previously from Fordham's coach (when they played USF), but he did note that his overarching goal is to establish a "second season mentality" and steal games on the road when he can. Overall, his focus was on building the culture in his first season as coach.

  • Tonight's game was an ugly win for Cal, but as Tsipsis mentioned, these are the kind of games ranked teams win - at home against a team that has been considerably less successful coming in and has lower expectations for success ahead.

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