Bears Conclude Disappointing Campaign

Photo: DeNesha Stallworth was named First Team All Pac-10 after leading the Bears with 13.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. The sophomore started all 34 games this season.
Sean Goebel/File
DeNesha Stallworth was named First Team All Pac-10 after leading the Bears with 13.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. The sophomore started all 34 games this season.

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The Cal women's basketball team had high hopes at the beginning of the season. Coming off a WNIT title, the Bears set a goal of making the NCAA tournament.

They ended their season in the second round of the postseason, an outcome that seems roughly on par with projections at the beginning of the season.

There was just one problem for Cal. It was in the WNIT - again.

Four months earlier, the team looked promising despite the graduation of superstar Alexis Gray-Lawson. The Bears beat Rutgers, an NCAA tournament team, in their season opener and finished 8-3 in non-conference play.

The season was still going smoothly for Cal through the first half of the Pac-10 season. The Bears' only real blemish was a road sweep at the hands of the Washington schools.

But Cal won four of its next five, including a victory over USC, and was tied for third place in the conference. As February rolled around, the Bears looked like a good bet to make it back to the NCAA tournament.

Then came Arizona State.

Cal lost in Tempe, Ariz., on a buzzer-beater and never really recovered. The heartbreaking defeat on Feb. 5 was the first of six consecutive losses, sending the squad into a tailspin that derailed its season.

Sophomore center Talia Caldwell said the streak was like a domino effect.

"Your mind can be your worst enemy," she said. "It's just difficult, no one wants to lose, especially when a lot of the games you're losing you can win. It was hard. It was searching for answers from anywhere."

Even coach Joanne Boyle was asking for help after nearly every game during that stretch in February. The squad fell to sixth place in the conference, finishing with a 7-11 Pac-10 record.

The low point may have been the Bears' 14-point home loss to Oregon, a team that went 4-14 in Pac-10 play.

"We have to come out better on both ends of the floor," Boyle said after the game. "I don't know why we're not."

Senior guard Rachelle Federico said that basketball is 90 percent mental, and that with a young team, the "mental downfall" was not particularly surprising.

Then again, it wasn't just a loss of focus or even a lack of execution.

In reality, Cal never fully filled the void, both in scoring and leadership, left by Gray-Lawson, last year's team captain.

There were games the Bears simply could not make a basket. Against the Ducks on Feb. 24, Cal shot 21.3 percent from the field, including an abysmal 1-for-26 from 3-point range.

After a home loss to Washington on Feb. 10, Boyle stressed the need for someone on her club to step up.

"We need communication," Boyle said. "We're just all over the map. We are really inconsistent right now with what team is going to show up.

"If we don't show up, are we going to get leadership at some point during the game?"

That question was never really answered. Sophomore guard Layshia Clarendon proved capable but inconsistent at the point; when she struggled, so did her team. Sophomore power forward DeNesha Stallworth led the team in scoring, but she tended to disappear in big games.

Nevertheless, Federico believes that the youthful Bears squad has a solid foundation.

"It was another learning year for our young group," she said. "I think we're headed in the right direction."


Jonathan Kuperberg covers women's basketball. Contact him at [email protected]

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