Kristine Anigwe had a pretty good game – in the third quarter.
That is when the Cal senior scored 21 of her 37 points, giving the 24th-ranked Bears enough cushion to walk away with an 80-79 victory over Houston in their season opener at Haas Pavilion on Tuesday.
“Kristine was a beast,” Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said.
Anigwe (No. 31 in the video above) fell well short of her career high of 50 points that she scored two years ago against Sacramento State, but this was against higher caliber competition. And her offense was much needed with Cal’s perimeter players struggling offensively.
Cal trailed by a point at halftime, with Anigwe sitting out much of the second quarter with three fouls. But the Bears made a concerted effort to get the ball inside to the 6-foot-4 Anigwe in the second half. She scored 10 straight Cal points near the start of the third quarter, then scored the Bears’ final 11 points of the period.
“The weird thing is, this is kind of what we expect her to do,” Gottlieb said. "You sort of see exceptional things become ordinary."
Her burst helped Cal take a 12-point lead late in the third quarter and the margin was 10 entering the fourth quarter.
"I just wanted to create a gap so we would have an advantage in the fourth quarter," Anigwe said.
The Bears struggled to the finish line, though. They let a 12-point lead with 6:09 left dwindle to one point with 11 seconds remaining when Jasmyne Harris, who led the Cougars with 17 points, made three free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt.
Cal’s Jaeylyn Brown made two free throws to make it a three-point game with 10.3 second to go, and Harris missed a 3-point attempt with three seconds left before a meaningless follow shot reduced the final margin to one point.
Unranked Houston, which returned all five starters from last season 21-11 squad, gave Cal problems with its quickness and fullcourt defensive pressure, forcing Cal into 21 turnovers and minimizing the offense of Cal’s guards.
The Bears three starting perimeter players – Asha Thomas, Kianna Smith and Recee’ Caldwell – were a combined 4-for-22 from the field, including 1-for-11 on 3-pointers.
In her first regular-season game with Cal after coming over from Texas Tech as a graduate transfer, Caldwell scored three points on 1-for-3 shooting to go a long with two assists and eight turnovers.
As a team, Cal was just 2-for-16 from behind the 3-point line and was 0-for-10 from long range in the first half.
That’s why Anigwe’s performance in the paint was so important.
Anigwe scored her 37 points on 13-of-20 shooting from the field and 11-of-11 shooting from foul line, quite an accomplishment for someone who shot 58.3 percent from the line last season as a junior.
Now Cal travels to the East Coast to take on Penn State on Sunday and plays another road game at BYU on Nov. 13 before returning home for a Nov. 18 game against Pacific.
"I want the East Coast people, whether it's writer or whoever,' to see us live, and get these guys used to -- who knows where we;re going to be sent for a postseason type of thing.," Gottlieb said.