California Golden Bears senior Talia Caldwell and junior Afure Jemerigbe were not even aware of the milestone they were on the cusp of accomplishing that had been sitting on the front of their own programs website for more than 24 hours.
“Oh wow,” said a surprised Jemerigbe after Cal’s 77-55 win over the Oregon Ducks on Friday night when a reporter asked them whether they knew they were close to setting a program record. “I didn’t even know.”
“You just notified us,” said a chuckling Caldwell, after which the entire room began to laugh along with her while second-year coach Lindsay Gottlieb sat between them looking like someone had just spilled the beans about a surprise party she was trying to keep secret.
“Didn’t know at all,” Jemerigbe added after the reporter informed her that one more win, today’s game against the Oregon State Beavers, would set the record for the longest winning streak in program history at 13.
“We have Oregon State on Sunday,” Caldwell said matter-of-factly. “That’s all that matters.”
Whether discussing milestone winning streaks, personal milestones, or today’s Senior Day, Caldwell’s mindset to some extent matches her style of play on the court which revolves doing the dirty work around the basket without the type of fan fare that her more highly touted guard teammates might draw: no-frills, no-nonsense, and all business. And on a night when she was honored prior the game for scoring her 1000th point and is now facing her final game at Haas Pavilion with Oregon State in town today, Caldwell’s ability to stay completely in the moment sort of took center stage for a few moments during the press conference.
But it’s a mindset that Caldwell sees as particularly prominent – perhaps even defining – with this team in particular, even if it’s a mantra that every team in the nation tends to recite.
“We’re so in the moment as a team – like it’s unique – everyone from the sophomores to the seniors, they’re so in the moment that we won’t take the chance to be like, ‘Wow – we can make history. We can break records’,” Caldwell commented after Friday night’s game. “It’s more just like, ‘We play Oregon – it’s a huge game. Next game: we play Oregon State.’ It’s really one game at a time, which has really helped us and kind of relaxes you when you know that you gotta leave it all out there.
“But yeah, that’s what I appreciate the most – that’s what I think makes us a good team. Like we really appreciate every practice, every game.”
To Caldwell’s point, every sports fan is probably familiar with the type of team that allow themselves to get caught up in their own spotlight, whether because they get further beyond their own expectations with each milestone and actually stand in awe of themselves. There are teams that experience rapid success and just end up “happy to be there” certainly undermines the momentum of some teams. There are plenty of teams who get distracted by the emotion of Senior Day events, causing coaches to develop different philosophies about whether to hold events before or after games.
This team, throughout the season, has been the complete opposite, seemingly staying so focused on the task at hand that they’re almost oblivious to the fact that they’ve crept up in the national hierarchy of things. They’re so focused in realizing the potential they’ve worked so hard to build that it almost seems more likely that they won’t care about the pomp and circumstance of what could be seen as a day full of distractions.
And Oregon State is just one more team that they have to beat, though perhaps to a lesser extent than the Oregon squad that they handled without their point guard.
The effort that Oregon State has put forth in the Scott Rueck era has undoubtedly been impressive, but against a team like Cal it might not be enough: with Caldwell, junior Gennifer Brandon and sophomore Reshanda Gray in the paint, it’s unlikely that OSU will be able to compete on the boards. And with Bears sophomore guard Brittany Boyd likely to be back in action after sitting out Friday’s game with a groin injury, the Beavers might also find themselves struggling to keep pace with the Bears in transition.
The Bears’ task is simple: if they play their style of ball, there’s no reason they’ll truly have something to celebrate after the game.
“We’re going to have a great celebration before the game and after the game, but…the integrity of those 40 minutes and what do we need to do defensively – we need to cut off the right hand, we need to contest the shots, switch screens,” Gottlieb commented. “That’s what they need to focus on and that’s what’s gotten them to this point.”
Afterward, there’s a good chance that the magnitude of playing their final game at Haas Pavilion will truly set in. That after the fans celebrate them during the game and afterwards at the team’s ceremony, they’ll finally start to feel things. But prior to that, even with family and friends showing up to show their appreciation, Caldwell – and likely the entirety of today’s honorees – are just doing what they’ve done all year.
“It’s not going to hit me until after – like I said, I’m very in the moment,” said Caldwell about the anticipation of today’s Senior Day activities. “We all have family coming up and we haven’t really thought about that. It’s just, ‘We have a game on Sunday.’
“I’m telling you – I’m not kidding you guys. I really think like that! I’m not joking. There’s a lot going on in the day.”