BERKELEY, Calif. – California senior Afure Jemerigbe shared a special moment with her best friend of more than 10 years following the ninth-ranked Golden Bears' 70-58 loss to No. 2 Duke on Sunday.
That would be two-time All-America guard Chelsea Gray, who scored 22 points for the Blue Devils in her first game back from a knee injury.
"I just told her I loved her, that she had a good game and we'd talk later," said Jemerigbe, who led Cal with 16 points. "She's the same player she was in high school, with no-look passes and being fancy. She can do it all."
Jemerigbe, one of three returning starters from last year's Final Four team, the first in school history, is just as excited about her own squad.
"Just the experience of playing against a top team with a new group; it's a learning lesson," she said. "We talked before the game about having no regrets and laying it all out there. We're always going to play hard whether we are ahead by a few points or behind by a lot."
California coach Lindsay Gottlieb felt better about the way her team played Sunday than after the Bears (1-1) beat Long Beach State on Friday night.
"We need to grow," Gottlieb said. "We're not as game-ready as we were at this point last year because of youth and players in new roles. This exposed us in ways we can get better. This was a chance to see the highest level and to understand we can play like that."
Brittany Boyd scored seven of her 13 points in the final 3 minutes for the Golden Bears, who had won 15 straight regular-season games. Reshanda Gray added 10 points.
California lost for only the second time in a home nonconference game under Gottlieb, who led the Golden Bears to their first Pac-12 Conference title last season.
The Golden Bears had a rough day shooting the ball, making just over 32 percent of their shots. A lot of that had to do with Duke's defense.
"Their matchup zone is bothersome," Gottlieb said. "It is disturbing because it is long and big."
The game served as a reminder that the Bears still have work to do if they have designs on returning to the Final Four.
"We may not be successful in the short term but this will help in the long term," Gottlieb said. "It was great for the freshmen."
One of them, Courtney Range, showed no fear in hitting the boards against a much taller, more aggressive Duke team. She had 10 rebounds, but the Blue Devils (1-0) outrebounded Cal 46-39.
The Bears were within nine with 7:09 remaining after watching Duke build a 15-point edge. Less than 3 minutes later, the Blue Devils were up by 17.
Duke recovered from an early deficit to open a 12-point advantage midway through the first half. The Bears scored nine straight points to draw to 24-23, though that was as close as they got.
"They were more aggressive to the ball than we were," Gottlieb said. "Offensive rebounds killed us. They have a lot of veterans who make plays."
Gray, who had surgery in March after dislocating her right kneecap in February, added five assists and a couple of steals in 31 minutes. She enjoyed playing in front of family and friends after hosting a dinner for teammates Friday night in Manteca, about an hour's drive from Cal.
Gray had a complaint, though: "No leftovers. I was hoping to bring some back with me to eat later but, nope, they ate all our food."
The Blue Devils also practiced at St. Mary's High in Stockton, where Gray and Jemerigbe were teammates.
"It was so much fun," Duke coach Joanne McCallie said. "It was like a retreat at Chelsea's house. I didn't think we were ever going to leave."
Tricia Liston added 15 points for the Blue Devils, who opened the season against a ranked opponent for the first time in school history. Richa Jackson had 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting.
Duke freshman Oderah Chidom, who grew up 10 minutes from the Cal campus, played 7 minutes in her debut.