As Kenya Corley goes, so go the Cal Bears.
Corley, the Bears’ senior shooting guard, has been hot and cold this season. She was instrumental in Cal’s four pre-Pac-10 wins, averaging 17 points per victory. But she averaged less than nine points per loss, and the Cal offense clearly struggles when she is off her game.
So it was no surprise that when Corley scored 11 points in the first half against Arizona Thursday in the Pac-10 season opener for both teams, the Bears had a lead over the favored Wildcats going into halftime. But Corley came out cold, missing all eight of her shots in the second half, and the visiting Wildcats took over the lead and held it for a 79-68 win at Haas Pavilion.
“I can’t explain it,” Corley said of her second-half slump. “I just stopped being as aggressive, and I missed some open shots.”
Making those open shots carried the Bears to leads as big as six points in the first half, as they shot over 46 percent from the field. But Corley’s coldness was catching, and Cal shot just 31.4 percent in the second half.
While Corley and her teammates were clanking shots, Arizona point guard Reshea Bristol was heating up after a slow first half. She drew her team within one point with two quick baskets, then gave the Wildcats a 39-38 lead with a three-pointer. Bristol’s teammates rallied behind her, and before the Bears blinked, they were behind by seven points.
All of this happened despite Arizona head coach Joan Bonvicini suiting up just eight players for the game. Leading scorer and rebounder Veranda James was left in Tucson to finish a winter course, and guard Tysell Bozeman is suspended this week for violating team rules.
“We stayed together as one unit, and we came out with a win,” Bristol said. “We knew we had to step it up another notch with players out.”
Helping Bristol out were forward Elizabeth Pickney and center LaKeisha Taylor, who each scored 16 points and caused havoc on the offensive glass. The two combined for eight offensive rebounds, and the Wildcats outrebounded Cal 50-35 overall.
“Our defense was pretty good, but we didn’t finish it off by blocking out,” Cal head coach Caren Horstmeyer said. “We just gave up way too many offensive boards and second chances.”
Cal forward Ami Forney continued her recent success with a career-high 22 points to go with nine rebounds, but her staunch inside play couldn’t offset her team’s bad shooting. Point guard Courtney Johnson was just 3-of-12 from the floor, and forward Lauren Ashbaugh never got into the flow of the game, grabbing just five rebounds and scoring just five points.
But the dominating force of the second half was Bristol. She scored 22 points in the half, including her team’s first seven, and time after time penetrated the Cal defense for short jumpers or passes to wide-open teammates. Despite committing 10 turnovers in the game, she handled the ball well against the Cal pressure, and her confidence spread to her teammates.
“Reshea has been our leader all year, and she carried the team tonight,” Bonvicini said. “Her confidence and big plays just give our other players more confidence.”