Bears Capture Paradise Jam Title in a Walk

Photo: Senior Ashley Walker took home tournament MVP honors after posting consecutive 30-plus-point games for the Bears.
Anna Hiatt/File
Senior Ashley Walker took home tournament MVP honors after posting consecutive 30-plus-point games for the Bears.

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Heading into this season, the expectations were high for the No. 3 Cal women's basketball team.

With six commanding victories under their belt, the Bears have lived up to them so far.

Before last week's holiday break, Cal traveled to the University of the Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam tournament. The Bears went 3-0 over three days to capture the Reef Division title and are now 6-0 on the season-eclipsing the 5-0 record by the 1981-82 squad for the best start in the program's history.

"We took care of business," coach Joanne Boyle said. "I am very proud of the kids. I think they brought what they needed to bring each day so we could come out of this tournament with three wins."

Once again, it was senior Ashley Walker leading the way on the offensive end of the court. After scoring just six points in the tournament's opening game, Walker had two consecutive 30-plus-point games and walked away with tournament MVP honors. Walker's 32 points in Cal's 76-43 win over Iowa tied her career high.

"It was a great game," Walker said. "My teammates really found me, put me in the right position in our offense ... Really helped me score against post players who were bigger than me."

Walker wasn't the only player making history, though. Junior Natasha Vital's 22 points in the tourney opener against South Florida-an 85-55 win for Cal-was also a career high. In addition, the tournament saw junior Alexis Gray-Lawson become the 20th member of the Bears' 1,000-point club and junior Lauren Greif take home her first all-Tournament honors.

"This is really exciting," Greif said. "I haven't gotten one of these in college, so this is really nice. This was really a team effort."

Cal's offense put up an average of 76.3 points per game during the tournament and is now averaging 70.8 points per game on the season.

While Walker carried the load on offense, it was truly an all-around effort on the defensive end.

Bolstered by senior Devanei Hampton's return to the lineup, Cal made a defensive statement in its game against the Bulls. USF had been averaging 98.5 points per game, but the Bears' stingy defense held the Bulls to a 28.6 field-goal percentage.

Over three games, Cal stifled its opponents into a 30.3 shooting percentage and forced an average of 15 turnovers per contest.

On their own end, the Bears fought off pressing situations and continued to control the ball well. Against the Hawkeyes, Cal committed only eight turnovers-the second time this season that it has stayed in single digits.

"I think the kids are getting a better feel for how important it is to create opportunities to score," Boyle said. "Taking care of the ball is a great way to do that."

With the tournament over, the Bears will have about a week of practice before they return to action.

Cal will next compete in the Collier's International Classic at home this weekend. The Bears face Princeton on Saturday and either No. 22 TCU or Saint Louis on Sunday.

"Playing three games in three days really prepares us for this coming weekend, having to turn around and play another pair of games in our tournament," Boyle said. "We'll fly home, try to regroup, get some rest, take care of school, and refocus when we get into practice and get ready for the weekend."


Contact Jimmy Tran at [email protected]

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