Women's basketball: Anigwe's hot hand a big reason Cal off to record start
BERKELEY, Calif. — A few days after Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson went off for 60 points in less than three quarters, reigning Pac-12 women's basketball Freshman of the Year Kristine Anigwe notched a milestone night of her own in the East Bay.
She scored a school-record 50 points in 24 minutes against Sacramento State, and surely could have had more.
"That's unbelievable," Thompson said Tuesday. "That's a talent right there, 50 points in 24 minutes, that's remarkable."
Anigwe's hot hand and a deep, more experienced — not to mention close-knit — Golden Bears team have Cal (11-0) off to the best start in program history after Tuesday's 82-74 win against No. 20 Oklahoma and building for what it hopes is a memorable March run.
These women believe they can do something special in the NCAA Tournament four years after Cal reached its first Final Four.
"Experience is a lot," Anigwe said before a recent practice. "Just having experience under your belt, you can improve so much. I feel like if I didn't have the year like I did last year but having that experience is still like, 'OK, now I can make my team better.' I just want to make my team better in the best way I can."
Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb knows Anigwe would have boosted her stat line against Sacramento State on Dec. 8 if she had stayed in the game.
"She makes extraordinary things look ordinary," Gottlieb said. "If you just throw it up there to her, she can finish right or left, she can step through defenders. ... Her efficiency level at scoring is remarkable. If we had wanted to break records, she could have had 70 or 80 if I had played her 40 minutes. She's a different kind of player than Klay, but the similarity was it was in the flow of the offense, and it was a magical night."
Bears extend win streak to 11 straight, the third longest in program history #BringItBack— Cal Basketball (@CalWBBall) December 21, 2016
Anigwe realizes not every game will present such an opportunity, but the performance did teach the Bears something important.
"That game just showed that we could play together," she said. "That game wasn't really for me. That game was for the guards, and they made me look good at the end of the day."
Cal improved to a school-record 11-0 on Tuesday with the win in Las Vegas and is hovering on the bubble of breaking into the Top 25. The Bears would cap an unbeaten preseason with a win against Arkansas State on Wednesday.
Anigwe is accustomed to two or even three defenders swarming her, but now, her supporting cast is regularly contributing. Courtney Range scored a season-best 28 points in Monday's win.
NBA MVP Stephen Curry was impressed to hear about Anigwe's big night on the heels of the Thompson show.
"That's pretty incredible, especially in college and the women's game, too, the court's pretty compact," Curry said Tuesday. "That's pretty amazing. Maybe they should just go play 1 on 1 against each other, see who wins."
Anigwe is far more comfortable as she begins her second college season.
"She's grown so much as a leader," fellow sophomore Chen Yue said. "Right now, she's on her way to being a captain."
"Chen!" an embarrassed Anigwe interrupted.
"That's true," Chen said.
Anigwe explains the approach as everyone being unselfish, because "when you have selfless people like that on your team and in your life it really impacts how you play and how you are as a person."
She is averaging 23.6 points and 9.7 rebounds.
"I said in the offseason she was the most improved player. What we've seen in the games is that she's had to handle all kinds of defenses," Gottlieb said. "We're a very balanced team. We have a lot of assists. She is able to find ways to score at a high rate and other kids are making shots, too. It's not just a Kristine show."
And the team is expected to get bigger, too. Gottlieb is due in May with her first child, a boy, and has appreciated the support of her players so far during her pregnancy.
She is still wearing heels on the sideline while beginning to mix in some maternity outfits she rented. It's flip-flops before and after games already, though, and Gottlieb is considering sneakers for game time if comfort demands it in the coming months — "Why not?" she asked. Mikayla Cowling has suggested a pair of pink Converse.
Her players are in it for more than fashion advice, too. Gottlieb has mostly felt good in her second trimester, but during a trip to Nebraska in early December, she rushed off the plane and sprinted to the bathroom because she was sick. Range rubbed her back as she threw up, and Jaelyn Brown handed Gottlieb paper towels. Still others waited on their coach, who has been keeping ginger ale in her office to help her stomach.
"I look up and half the team's in there," Gottlieb recalled. "They're in there with me. It was the cutest thing ever. They wouldn't leave. They were very protective, in the airport bathroom. It was super sweet of them."
This article was written by Janie McCauley from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.