Ashley Walker had another double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. For Riverside, Amber Cox led the way with 13 points, and guard Seyram Gbewonyo scored 11. Roney Friend had 10 points and 7 rebounds.
"Well, I will take the win, as ugly as it was," said Cal head coach Joanne Boyle. "Just to give credit to Riverside, I thought they did a great job on the scouting report in playing us. I think they came in here expecting to win, and they did everything they could to do that."
"I thought it was a hard-fought game," said Riverside head coach John Margaritis. "Going down the stretch, we had some opportunities, but we did not capitalize. I thought that Cal did what they had to do. They beat us on some aggressive plays - rebounds, some loose balls - they earned it.
With Riverside employing the now-familiar opponents' strategy of packing in tight down low, Cal's guards led the way in the first half. First it was senior Keanna Levy who hit a 3 to stake Cal to a 5-0 lead. Then Lauren Greif hit consecutive baskets to extend Cal's lead in the middle of the half. Finally, the half belonged to freshman Natasha Vital, who looked for her shot and led all scorers at the half with 11 points.
"I think the people on the perimeter do a real good job providing perimeter threat," said Magaritis.
The Bears did not take advantage from the line, hitting only 3 of 8 free throws (37.5%) in the first half.
At the 11-minute mark, Boyle went to a three-quarter-court press that had immediate results, leading to three quick Highlander turnovers. Already a deliberate squad on offense, Riverside found themselves repeatedly up against the shot clock.
"I think we had problems passing and catching, rather than with the press," said Margaritis. "We had good spacing, we had opportunities to attack, but then we did not do a good job handling the ball."
But when the Highlanders began to attack and hit their shots at the end of the half, they stayed with the Bears and went into the break only down 31-25. Guard Seyram Gbewonyo carried her team with 10 points on 4 of 6 shooting.
Ashley Walker came out with renewed determination. On the Bears' second possession, she took the ball to the basket and promptly got it blocked. However, Walker fought for the loose ball and hit the put back. In all, she hit a quick 8 points in the first 8 minutes and the Bears quickly built their lead (46-32).
Riverside battled back, playing patient, disciplined ball. The Highlanders ran through screen after screen to score on backdoor cuts or on kick out jumpers. Their offensive schemes also left wide open spaces to sneak in for offensive boards.
"That was an adjustment we had to make," said Margaritis. "The first time-out, we talked about attacking. The first few shots we took were three-pointers, and if we had continued to do that, it meant we didn't want anything to do with them. We would have just stayed outside and be glad to shoot the ball. But as the game progressed, we did a better job attacking them and attacking the glass."
"We knew that Riverside was very long and very athletic," said Walker. "We knew we would have to match up with them and that our posts would have to play perimeter defense. I don't think I was posted up more than twice tonight. And that never ever happens."
"I was quite disappointed in the defensive effort by our guards," said Boyle. "I just had a fifteen minute talk with them about that. They need to understand the importance of playing that end of the floor, and taking some pride in getting stops. And we could have done a better job rebounding out of the zone."
In the meantime, the Bears went cold from the outside, and soon Riverside found themselves in a one possession game at 52-50.
|GoldenBearSports.com, Michael Pimentel
With the Bears not hitting their outside shots, Hampton kept Riverside at bay with high-percentage inside shots, many coming on passes from Ashley Walker, with whom she has perfected the high-low. Hampton, who has struggled at the line this year, calmly sank two free-throws at the 3:54 mark to push the lead to 54-50. The Bears then stiffened their defense and created two steals in the waning minutes; they also hit their free throws down the stretch to pull out the win.
The Bears now will travel to face rival Stanford on Sunday at 1 p.m. The Cardinal, ranked #9 in the nation handed Cal their worst loss of the season, 69-44, in their previous meeting.
NOTES and QUOTES:
- Walker collected a game-high 5 steals and 5 assists. The steals total equaled a career high. "Ashley's grown tremendously," Hampton said. "Having her on the floor, with our great high-low game, and with our communication, it's just like me and Alexis [Gray-Lawson] in high school. Unfortunately, Alexis is not here, but Ashley is right here to pick up the pieces of what Alexis and I had. She's a leader on the floor. On the media guide, she was overlooked, but now you can't help but to respect her on the floor."
- Riverside outscored Cal in the paint 28-20.
- The Bears last started the season 17-5 in 1983-1984.
- Walker, who leads the team in shooting, may have an excuse for her cold-shooting night (3 of 10). She was stuck in her dorm elevator after midnight for over 90 minutes. "I hate elevators," said Walker.
- The Bears shot only 30.8% in the second half after hitting 48.1% of their shots in the first half.
- All those missed shots created opportunities for rebounds, and the Bears collected 17 offensive boards.
- Known for their short bench, the Bears stayed remarkably clear of foul trouble; no player had more than two fouls, and Cal only committed 8 as a team.
- The Bears closed out their non-conference schedule with a record of 10-1, with the only blemish a loss against top-25 Vanderbilt.
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