Sitting atop a 14-point lead with less than seven minutes to play Wednesday night versus the University of San Francisco, it appeared as if the Cal women’s basketball team could relax and cruise to an easy victory. The problem is they tried to do just that, and the Dons had other plans.
Sparked by second-half outbursts from senior guard Lindsay Huff and junior forward Lisa Whiteside, USF mounted a dramatic 19-2 rally to close the game and edge Cal by a final score of 55-52.
“When you have a lead you need to put a team away,” Cal head coach Caren Horstmeyer said. “You can’t just count on winning the game. Our defense was very bad in the last five minutes.”
After leading 24-19 at the half, Cal used a 10-point run to build a double-digit lead halfway through the second period. That lead was extended to 50-36 with 6:39 remaining before the 5-foot-9 Whiteside took matters into her own hands, scoring the next three baskets. She scored 8 of her 10 points in the second half.
“We knew we had to pick it up,” Whiteside said. “It just clicked... we said that some way, somehow, we’re going to win this game.”
Huff led the Dons with 11 points, scoring 8 in the second period.
Cal wasted a big performance from center Ami Forney, who doubled all other scorers with 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting.
“We got tentative,” Forney said. “Nobody wanted to shoot the ball.”
Horstmeyer offered three keys to Cal’s second-half meltdown.
“Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers,” she said.
Forward Leigh Gregory and point guard Kristin Iwanaga each coughed the ball up 6 times en route to a season-high 30 team turnovers, five more than the 25 which contributed to their first loss of the season on Sunday against Georgia.
“I definitely credit (USF’s) guard pressure,” Horstmeyer said. “I’m glad we saw this now, because we really struggled to run an offense.”
Cal’s defense, leading the Pac-10 heading into the contest, surrendered 36 points in the second half after giving up only 19 points in the first.
“USF flat-out outplayed us in the last five minutes,” Horstmeyer said. “They deserved the win.”
Following last Sunday’s 72-to-68 victory over Washington, Wednesday’s comeback marked the first time USF has beaten two Pac-10 teams in the same season since 1993-94.
“I’m not sure we win this game if we don’t beat Washington,” said USF head coach Mary Hile-Nepfel.
Huff, who shot 4-for-8 from the floor with a pair of 3-pointers, echoed that sentiment, calling last Sunday’s victory “huge... big for our confidence.”
After opening its season 0-3, USF has now won three straight games to even its record.
“You’ll earn respect over time,” Hile-Nepfel said. “Right now I could care less what other people think... we are building confidence and coming together as a team.”