(Photo: Brooke Faber/WCSN)
SEATTLE, Wash. – In the history of the tournament, a 10-seed had never defeated a 2-seed, but Pac-12 freshman of the year Kristine Anigwe made sure that she was able to leave etch her name in the Pac-12 history books.
In what was one of the biggest upsets in tournament history, 2-seed Arizona State (25-6, 16-3 Pac-12) was bounced from the conference tournament by 10-seed Cal (15-16, 5-14) by a score of 75-64 in the second round.
“[Cal] has really been playing great down the stretch,” said ASU head coach Charli Turner Thorne. “They’re a very talented young team and they stepped up today.”
Throughout the game Anigwe was unstoppable. She was able to dominate in the post and get virtually any shot she wanted, resulting in a game-high 24 points and 11 rebounds before she fouled out late in the fourth quarter. Anigwe was nearly perfect on the offensive end, shooting 10-for-11 from the field.
The Sun Devils exhausted every resource they had trying to stop Anigwe. Double teams, implementing big freshman Charnea Johnson-Chapman, and switching to a 2-3 zone all failed to contain Anigwe as Cal continued to find her with beautiful ball movement and smart passes.
“I think what she’s doing this year is as remarkable of a freshman season as I’ve seen,” said Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “I think she expected to come in and contribute, but nobody expected her to be a go-to and a focus of defenses.”
The key to Cal’s success in the post was the lob pass. The Golden Bears utilized the lob pass to perfection, feeding the ball high inside to Anigwe and forward Penina Davidson where only they could grab it and getting easy shots down low. Without any answer from the Sun Devil defense, Cal outscored ASU in the paint by a 46-to-32 margin.
Davidson had a stellar night as well, consistently finding openings down low en route to a career-high 17 points to go along with seven rebounds. The Auckland, New Zealand product’s biggest bucket came on a put-back off a missed free throw that pushed Cal’s leads to double digits late in the third quarter.
Because they were able to get the ball into the paint for easy looks, the Golden Bears were able to shoot 69 percent from the floor, a new record for best team field goal percentage in the Pac-12 tournament.
On the other end of the spectrum, ASU shot only 36 percent for the game. They struggled to overcome Cal’s length, causing them to take highly contested shots throughout the matchup and fall into a deep hole.
“We just really struggled to knock down shots today,” Turner Thorne said. “I know that we’ll respond well.”
The two teams traded blows throughout the first half, but with only a few minutes remaining, the Golden Bears caught fire, closing out the second quarter on a 7-0 run to give Cal a 32-27 lead going into the break.
Without a doubt, Anigwe led the charge for Cal, but the player who should be credited with really breaking the game open is freshman guard Asha Thomas.
Although she hadn’t scored in the first half, she came out of the halftime break on fire scoring eight quick points to help push Cal way in front. Thomas finished with 16 points in what was one of the best games of her season. She connected on four three-pointers despite tight ASU defense, willing her team to a decisive victory.
The loss is ASU’s second straight, the first time that has happened to the Sun Devils all season.
“I’m still so proud of this team,” Turner Thorne said. “They’ve still achieved so much, and I’m glad we’re gonna get a little two week break to regroup and prepare for the NCAA’s.”
Despite heading into the NCAA tournament on a two-game losing streak, the Sun Devils will still be a top four seed, thus ensuring that they host the first two rounds in Tempe.
Player of the Game: Kristine Anigwe
The Pac-12’s freshman of the year lived up to the high praise she’s received all season, clearly distinguishing herself as the player of this game. Anigwe poured in a game-high 24 points on 10-for-11 shooting (90.9 percent) to go along with a game-high 11 rebounds. She dominated the post, scoring in bunches while also sucking in the defense to open up looks on the perimeter for guards like Thomas. Along with Davidson, Anigwe was able to dictate the course of this game and is the main reason that Cal’s Cinderella postseason dreams live for another day.
Stat of the Night: 69 percent
The Golden Bears didn’t just have a good offensive night, they had a spectacular one. Cal set the Pac-12 tournament record for field goal percentage with 69 percent efficiency from the floor. While initially one could assume that Anigwe’s 90.9 percent shooting just skyrocketed the team’s overall percentage, but that would be wholly inaccurate.
Along with Anigwe, Davidson was 7-for-8 (87.5 percent) and Thomas was 6-for-7 (85.7 percent) to help keep ASU at a distance and contribute to Cal’s most efficient offensive performance of the 2015-16 season.
With ASU’s Pac-12 tournament hopes dashed, the Sun Devils will have to wait until NCAA selection day Monday, March 4 to hear where they’ll land on the NCAA tournament bracket.