As fans were filing out of Haas Pavilion tonight, a teenager walking down the stairs tapped Layshia Clarendon's picture on a poster hanging in the stairwell before giving his quick analysis of her 28-point performance in the California Golden Bears' 88-79 win over the Kansas Jayhawks tonight.
"She was ballin' tonight," he yelled over the buzz of a satisfied crowd to his friend a few stairs below him. "She would've had 30 if she hadn't kept passing the ball."
And while that was probably true, it was also hard to avoid passing the ball with the way Cal's posts were playing.
When Kansas was successful in keeping Cal from getting out in transition for easy buckets, Cal would come down the court patiently and rotate the ball a few times to soften the Jayhawks' zone. If Clarendon didn't find a gap to attack and score off the drive, they'd find a post open with position right under the basket, occasionally established so long that you could hear the Cal coaching staff or point guard Brittany Boyd yelling to get out of the key to avoid a three seconds call. If the post wasn't fouled as she went up but missed the shot anyway, they'd get the offensive rebound. Off the offensive board, with the defense scrambling to catch up, putting the ball in the hoop eventually might not have been a sure thing but it was a lot easier.
As good as Clarendon was in recording that game-high, that advantage in the post was arguably the biggest difference-maker in the game: Cal outrebounded Kansas 19-10, which helped them earn a dominant 25-8 advantage in second chance points. Kansas' post rotation never really found an answer for Cal's post trio of Gennifer Brandon, Talia Caldwell, and Reshanda Gray who combined for 42 points. Meanwhile, Carolyn Davis only had six shots and finished with 16 points.
Although tonight's game was competitive, there was an extent to which the outcome was almost never in doubt because of the way Cal won; both teams had depth and size in their post rotation, but the Golden Bears' posts simply outmuscled the Jayhawks in a physical contest that featured plenty of possessions with post players just crashing into each other early in the shot clock as they struggled to establish position.
With it feeling like Kansas had no solution for stopping scoring opportunities right at the basket, the path to a Cal win seemed well-paved.
Setting aside the fact that this was Cal's first win over a ranked opponent this season, it's almost more significant that they so thoroughly dominated Kansas and refused to let go of the lead even when their first ranked visiting opponent threatened on a number of occasions. Games like tonight - and perhaps in a different way, the win against the Georgetown Hoyas at Haas earlier this season - are the type of games that demonstrate that Cal is ready to compete with the nation's top programs rather than merely sitting among them on paper in the rankings.
It's a point that Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb made during the press conference, echoing what she said from the Haas Pavilion floor shortly after the game while crediting the crowd of 3,009 for their help.
"We're trying to build one of the nation's best programs, but we can't do it unless the place is full like this," said Gottlieb in addressing the crowd after the game.
Their next opponent, the George Washington Colonials (5-5), figures to have a tough time coming into Haas next Friday and breaking that momentum.