If you had never seen – or really heard of – point guard Brittany Boyd outside of the California Golden Bears‘ tournament appearance last season, then her performance on Saturday was a pretty good introduction to her talent even as she went about the business of posting a career-high 14 assists.
Looking for a way disrupt Cal’s patient offense against their zone on Saturday, the Georgetown Hoyas tried to force the ball out of Boyd’s hands in every way possible while trailing in the final 10 minutes of the game. Traps along the sideline when she received the ball in full court pressure sets, traps as soon as she caught the ball in the backcourt if Cal entered the ball to someone else, and aggressive traps just as she stepped over halfcourt.
It would be unfair to say that the pressure didn’t bother her at all – she dribbled herself into trouble a few times and made rushed decisions or turnovers – but she single-handedly destroyed the Hoyas’ pressure defensive schemes more often than not.
On the sidelines, Boyd simply blew by scrambling defenders attempting to cut her off. If the trapping defender was a second late in open space she deftly maneuvered around trouble and headed up court. Against the halfcourt traps, she simply went through the two defenders on a couple of occasions.
The fact is that there are few point guards in the nation – let alone sophomores – who are capable of navigating full court pressure in quite the way that Boyd did against the Hoyas. And even though the box score does give you some sense that something spectacular happened – her 14 assists and 6 turnovers were good for an outstanding 9.80 pure point rating – it’s hard to appreciate just how good she was without taking how she racked up those numbers into account.
Key stat: Brittany Boyd has a career-high 14 assists leads efficient second half offense for Cal
In addition to the 14 assists Boyd recorded, there were at least three plays on which she lost out on assists because her teammate got fouled in the act of shooting a layup after receiving a pass from her. There were the potential assists lost when a teammate didn’t knock down an open three against Georgetown’s zone off a pass from her. Then of course there were all the times she broke the press, established an advantage in transition with two (or more) defenders left in her wake and made the pass that led to an easy assist for a teammate.
All told, Boyd was easily responsible for setting up 20+ quality scoring opportunities for teammates, whether directly or indirectly.
Where the significance of all of that really shows up is in Cal’s scoring numbers or, more specifically, how they scored.
Adj. synergy numbers for Cal vs. Georgetown on 11/24/12. Click here for an explanation.
For reference, Cal’s assisted field goal percentage – the percentage of made field goals for which a player was credited with an assist – is currently at 53.84%, which suggests they were more reliant on teammates to score against Georgetown than they had been previously. Of course, that makes sense – the Hoyas were not only their best opponent, but also a much more athletic defensive team than they’d faced so far this season that spent the vast majority of the game sitting in a zone scheme, whether in half- or full-court schemes. So it was a game where Cal had to figure out how to move the ball to score and no matter how you look at it they did a much better job of that in the second half. That they beat a team 38-27 in the second half that spent a considerable amount of time playing zone by only hitting two threes, further illustrates that they played extremely well as a unit to get scoring opportunities.
Getting back to Boyd’s significance in particular, she personally accounted for 8 of the Bears’ 12 second half assists. She made the play that broke the Hoya defense and set up two of Layshia Clarendon’s assists. To do all of that against a press, traps, and zone with only two turnovers is far more remarkable to watch than it is to stare at on paper – there just aren’t too many point guards in the nation who can pull that off even if they have comparable skill.
And it’s safe to say that the game plan wouldn’t have worked quite as well without Boyd manning the point.
“We knew that possessions were going to feel tougher to score,” said Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb after the game. “We wanted to try to beat ’em up and down the floor and play at our pace, but we also knew we were going to have to execute. And I thought our players just were very patient to say, ‘The easy thing is not going to be there – we just have to keep working and working.'”
While Boyd was weaving her way around Georgetown’s defensive schemes, Cal’s posts were on the receiving end of a quite a few nice passes from their sophomore point guard as their defenders helped off of them in response to Boyd breaking through the first layer of defense.
Gennifer Brandon and Talia Caldwell combined to outscore Georgetown’s frontcourt 17-6 in the second half – not so coincidentally the difference in the second half score of a physical game – while helping Cal keep pace on the boards.
Key player: Talia Caldwell dominates offensive boards for Cal
Cal was so hot from the field in the second half – getting easy buckets largely on the play of Boyd – that second chance points weren’t as significant to their success, but in the first half their ability to battle in the paint was crucial.
As they’ve done consistently in recent years, the Bears controlled the offensive boards in the first half, establishing a 10-3 advantage against the Hoyas. That only translated to an 8-5 advantage in second chance points, but it’s really difficult to ignore that the officials were letting a lot of contact go – their bigs should have gotten at least 2-3 extra trips to the free throw line with what was going on in the paint.
Still, Caldwell fought through all of the contact to grab a game-high 7 offensive rebounds (27.45%). The combination of a point able to breakdown perimeter defenses like Boyd and posts able to control the paint like Caldwell lays the foundation for a difficult offense to diffuse. The final piece is a scorer able to take advantage of a scrambling defense.
Cal statistical MVP: Clarendon continues to grow into her role as go-to scorer
The biggest beneficiary of Boyd’s creativity was Clarendon, who was on the receiving end of a few of the assists that Boyd handed out for threes as well as the passes that set up assists after Boyd eviscerated the Hoya press.
She finished the game with an efficient 20 points on 7-for-15 shooting, showing off confidence as both a spot up shooter against the zone and a ball handler when she found gaps to penetrate into the teeth of Georgetown’s aggressive defense. And in a way, her efficiency as a scorer is yet another testament to the significance of Boyd’s presence.
While Cal’s rebounding has been their calling card over the last couple of years, what they were missing – particularly after Alexis Gray-Lawson’s departure, but even when the program’s most dynamic perimeter scorer was present – was a dynamic player who could create scoring opportunities for others.
“I think we depend on [Boyd] a lot more,” said Clarendon after the game. “Just kind of like when you’re a freshman there’s so much to learn, so much. I played point freshman year and it was like, ‘I have to know this and that.’ And it’s just like, ‘Ah, just leave me alone.’ So it’s a lot and I think she has done a great job of just settling it down and kind of rhythm dribble more and just making better decisions overall and being poised and being very coachable and open.”
With Boyd filling the role that Clarendon was once forced to, it’s as if everyone else – and especially Clarendon – is freed to come into their own.
Georgetown statistical MVP: Andrea White steps up with Cal containing Sugar Rodgers
While things were starting to click offensively in the second half for Cal, they were equally locked in on defense.
As described previously, the Golden Bears held the Hoyas’ star scorer Sugar Rodgers to 2-for-12 shooting in the second half. And although Andrea White did end with an impressive line of 15 points on 7-for-12 shooting finding gaps in the defense on a number of occasions for easy baskets, Cal’s aggressive defense around the perimeter helped hold her to a more modest 3-for-7 shooting in the second half and forced her into 4 second half turnovers while keeping her off the free throw line.
And it could easily be said that defense won this game for Cal – there aren’t many teams on the west coast that can match Cal’s defensive combination of Boyd, Clardendon, Afure Jemerigbe, and Eliza Pierre on the perimeter and rotating them in and out on Rodgers (and White) clearly helped them to establish an edge.
But the bigger story here might be how this game fits into the broader narrative of the program’s direction as a whole.
The “It” Factor
Chances are that Cal is not going to have many games where Boyd’s efficiency as a distributor approaches a pure point rating of 10, Clarendon’s scoring efficiency approaches a true shooting percentage of 60%, and Caldwell is over 25% on the offensive boards all while holding a talented scorer under 20% for a half – the likelihood of that happening again doesn’t seem particularly strong, without negating the roster’s versatility that Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb has been touting throughout the season.
“I think the best thing about our team is how many players we have and the weapons that we have and six averaging double figures,” Gottlieb said in her opening remarks after the game on Saturday.
Yet if you’re looking for a concrete sign that Cal has matured and is ready to meet the challenge of realizing the potential that so many people saw in these seniors when they were freshmen, Saturday’s win against Georgetown is persuasive – in short, the second half of that game might’ve been even better than what fans imagined when the seniors first set foot on campus back in 2009.
Not only has that talented freshman class grown up, but Boyd is there both as the glue that makes this unit effective and the catalyst that can take this program to the next level.
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