Asha Thomas brings fire as Cal holds off Washington 71-68 in Pac-12 tournament first round

Cal will face UCLA in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament

SEATTLE – California (21-9, 11-7) and Washington (7-23, 1-17) played each other for the third time this season in game two of the first round of the Pac-12 tournament. While Cal came out on top in the first two games, Golden Bears head coach Lindsay Gottlieb knew that the Huskies would come into the tournament upset-minded.

Cal needed to make sure they did not let Washington’s leading scorer, sophomore Amber Melgoza, take over the game with her offensive skills. Melgoza still managed to finish with 30 points.

“They have an elite scorer in Amber Melgoza,” said Gottlieb. “So, I think we focused on trying to defend them really well and consistently.”

She praised Washington’s game plan while commending her team for stepping up and keeping the Huskies at bay. Washington’s double-teaming defense kept Cal’s leading scorer Kristine Anigwe, who averages 17.0 points per game, to just eight points. However, she pulled down nine rebounds.

One of the main reasons Cal was able to keep the lead late in the game when they lost a double-digit advantage was the leadership and gutsy play of starting point guard Asha Thomas.

When Washington went on runs late in the game, Thomas answered with shots that halted their momentum. It has become a trademark of hers to keep her team from losing their advantage when faced with a rally from opponents late in a matchup.

“I think that’s just how I was brought up in the game of basketball, especially where I’m from, to always have a certain toughness deep down in yourself. I don’t know. I mean, I don’t want to lose. I know my team doesn’t want to lose. So, if that’s me that day or it could be Mikayla [Cowling] some days, Nina [Davis]. But there is always some fire in me that doesn’t allow myself and then my teammates to lose. So, I think it’s just a fire that I always have.”

Washington head coach Jody Wynn had high praise for Thomas.

“I think A.T.’s a phenomenal player,” Wynn said. “She’s so shifty. She’s explosive and she’s able to change speeds really, really well. She got lost a couple of times in our transition defense.”

Thomas finished with 22 points. Cowling and Jaelyn Brown had 14 points and four rebounds each.

In addition to Melgoza, freshman forward Khayla Rooks was also in double digits for Washington with 10 points.

Cal has a tough task Friday as they will face No. 4 UCLA at 2 p.m. PT on the Pac-12 Network. In the two contests between the Bears and Bruins this season, UCLA downed Cal by 36 points (Dec. 31) and eight points (Jan. 19).

“There’s a huge task ahead of us with UCLA,” Gottlieb said. “They’re so good and they’re a top-10 team nationally for a reason. But we’ll try to get ourselves in the mentality right from the tip that, hey, we understand March basketball and we have to make some noise tomorrow from the beginning.”

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