Cal freshmen continue to shine, show composure as Bears down UC Riverside, 64-58


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BERKELEY, Calif. – No. 21 Cal (3-0) survived a talented and determined UC Riverside (2-1) squad Friday afternoon, 64-58, at Haas Pavilion. With a crowd of several thousand schoolkids cheering them on during the program’s annual School Haas Rock game, the Bears managed to overcome a halftime deficit with the help of high-performing freshmen, point guard Asha Thomas and forward Kristin Anigwe.

While junior Courtney Range led the Bears with 20 points and five rebounds, Thomas contributed 16 points and six rebounds while Anigwe finished with 10 points plus seven rebounds. The two freshman have scored in double-digits in every game so far this season. Thomas is averaging 14.0 points per game and 5.0 rebounds per outing. Anigwe is close behind with 13.3 points per game plus 7.7 rebounds per contest.

For head coach Lindsay Gottlieb, the immediate success of Thomas and Anigwe is attributable to several factors.

“I think when you have incoming freshman, the most critical ingredient in their success is the returners that we have around them. Our other returners happen to be young too but they’ve done an incredible job and that’s Courtney, KC (Waters), Nina (Penina Davidson), Mikayla (Cowling), and Gabby (Green). We’ve talked about making an environment where the freshman can come in and thrive.”

In addition to having a supportive atmosphere, Gottlieb mentioned other elements in helping newcomers flourish.

“I’m not afraid, as you all know, to throw freshmen into the fire and let them learn through experience. I think it’s the combination of their natural talent. I mean we recruit these young women for a reason because we know they can perform but it’s their natural talent, it’s their coachability, their maturity level, their willingness to step in and be a part of Cal basketball. It’s about the fit and what you do when you get here.”

The positive team chemistry that has developed between the freshman and returners was without a doubt crucial to Cal overcoming the relentless Highlanders. However, before Cal broke away from UCR, they were up against the wall due to the prolific output of Réjane Verin. The junior forward from the island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean is a transfer from UNLV and sat out last year. She wasted no time in scoring, putting up the first four points of the game.

A balanced effort from Range, sophomore guard Green plus Anigwe and Thomas prevented the Highlanders from pulling away. UCR led 12-11 at the end of the first quarter. It was a back-and-forth game for the first three minutes of the second quarter until Verin heated up again to give her team a seven-point lead.

Cal fought back but the Highlanders were ahead by seven two more times before the end of the half. A three-pointer from Range and a jumper from Thomas cut the deficit to two as the half came to an end. UCR went into the locker room with a 32-30 lead.

The tide changed in the third quarter, the deciding period of the game. At first it appeared that it was business as usual for the Highlanders with sophomore Clémence Lefebvre nailing a trey to start the period. She scored the first seven points of the quarter for the Highlanders. However, at 6:50, the game was tied as Cal begin to ramp up the defensive pressure.

After five ties, Cal made two three-point shots (Range and Thomas) in the last 38 seconds of the quarter to earn a six-point lead. The Bears outscored the Highlanders 22-14 in the third quarter.

The fourth quarter had the teams in dead heat, scoring with 12 points each. Cal’s third quarter surge was enough to pull them through to victory. The final score did not really reflect how close was before the last buzzer.

“I think you can look at the box score and say ‘Wow, they lost 22-14 in the third quarter,’ but if you examine it you see we really just lost the last few seconds,” said UCR head coach John Margaritis. “Cal made two late threes. It was 16-14 before that and then it’s 22-14.”

Gottlieb called UC Riverside “a good veteran team” in her praising the visitors.

“I thought, all and all, Riverside out played us today. They did them better than we did us. But I think our girls played tough to get the win. I am proud of us for that. I thought people made some good plays, but they caused us a lot of problems and we definitely came out a bit sluggish. We found a way in the second half so we will take it and move on. But it’s a good lesson for our team that we need to find our intensity level every single time we step on the floor and our opponents are good, particularly this one.”

Even in the loss, Margaritis felt that the game was a good experience for his team.

“I was telling the team after the game that when the game of this magnitude is this close everything gets magnified,” he said. “With our ability to finish the half or the quarter strong or to finish the game strong, we can learn from it. We can look at the possessions. We can go back and look at film and the possessions and look at when the game was on the line what did we get and what did we choose to get. And then maybe you can learn from it the way you approach the next the game – the way you made shot selection, who you’re going to go to, how hard you defend, how hard you play when you’re tired.”

Verin led UCR with 17 points, 10 rebounds and five steals. Junior guard Brittany Crain was also in double figures with 12 points plus nine rebounds. Sophomore forward Lefebvre scored 11 points and pulled down five rebounds.

UCR continues its road trip to face another Pac-12 team on Sunday, No. 9 Oregon State. Cal remains home to host Cal Poly on the same day.



  • The win gives Cal a 3-0 start for the third time in head coach Lindsay Gottlieb’s career, and the sixth time in the past 10 seasons.
  • With the win, the Bears are riding a 4-game win streak against the Highlanders, dating back to the 1977-1978 season.
  • Cal now has a 5-1 all-time series lead over UC Riverside.
  • California has used the same starters in the first three games: G Asha Thomas, G Mikayla  Cowling, F Courtney Range, F Kristine Anigwe, and G Gabby Green.
  • This is the first game this season where Cal has not lead at halftime.
  • Despite being down at the half, Bears held their highest three-point percentage of the season at the half, shooting 40% from beyond the arc.
  • Courtney Range has a 3-pointer in all three games this season. She went 4-7 today, putting her at 7-14 (50 percent) for the season.
  • Mikayla Cowling notched a career-high four steals.
  • Cal scored 19 points off turnovers and 22 points in the paint.


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