Brittany Boyd is super-competitive and it was obvious to her best friend, Elisha Davis, the first time they met at AAU practice 10 years ago. As a third-grader, Davis knew how to spin a basketball on the tips of her fingers and Boyd, a fourth-grader, was more than frustrated that she couldn’t keep up.
“She just kept trying to do it, she kept trying,” said Davis, who now plays for Arizona State. “She’s always going to learn how to do something if she can’t do it. She’s going to keep trying until she gets it. Just from Day 1, you could see she’s hungry. She going to try to be the best at anything she encounters.”
Boyd’s refuse-to-quit attitude is a big reason why the Cal women’s basketball team (32-3) is playing in its first Final Four against Louisville (28-8) in New Orleans today. The speedy sophomore is the team’s sparkplug, its quarterback, and, if you believe coach Lindsay Gottlieb, she was “born to be on the basketball court.”
“It’s really fun to coach someone like that, who is just at her best when the big lights are on,” Gottlieb said.
But the Bears almost lost the Berkeley High School product when Joanne Boyle left the team to take the coaching job at the University of Virginia two years ago. At the time, Boyd was considered the top high school point guard on the West Coast, and she committed to Cal because she’d known Boyle from years attending her summer basketball camps at Berkeley.
“I was really sad about it,” Boyd said. “I was hesitant about Cal, thinking, should I stay? Should I go?”
After landing the Cal gig, Gottlieb’s first call was to Boyd, knowing she had to keep the East Bay native on board.
“Brittany belongs at Cal, playing in front of her hometown fans,” Gottlieb said. “It was making sure [her parents] felt comfortable with me as a person.”
Boyd said Gottlieb’s personality quickly soothed her fears.
“She was just very genuine from the start and I knew she was somebody I could trust,” she said.
As a freshman, Boyd showed the Pac-12 Conference why she was such a highly touted recruit, nabbing Pac-12 All-Freshman and All-Defensive team honors while finishing second in the conference in assists (4.8 per game) and third in steals (89).
True to form, Boyd put together her best performance in a near-upset of Stanford at Maples Pavilion, scoring 19 points with seven rebounds and four assists.
She’s continued to thrive this season, averaging 12.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game while earning All-Pac-12 honors. She’s developed a pull-up jumper, she’s learned how to change speeds to maximize her quickness and she’s becoming a lockdown defender in the backcourt.
But Boyd’s best asset — her competitive drive — is also her fatal flaw.
“Her standards are so high,” Gottlieb said. “She doesn’t like to make a mistake. She wants to be perfect.”
As a result, the turnovers, the losses, the growing pains tend to stick with her well beyond the last whistle.
Davis, Boyd’s backcourt teammate at Berkeley High, said she took the Yellowjackets’ loss to Mater Dei in the 2011 CIF State Championship game particularly hard.
“I remember walking into the locker room and she just fell on the floor and cried,” Davis said. “I’ve seen her cry before, but it hasn’t been with so much emotion to where it’s like, wow, that state championship meant more than just a title, it was a lot more than just a ring to her.”
The pain lingered for weeks and, at times, she seemed depressed. But as her career at Cal started to take off, she moved on.
“I’ll never forget it, but I’m past it,” Boyd said. “My game has gotten so much better since high school and I’m just getting better as a person.”
Boyd is getting an opportunity to taste the glory of a national championship in New Orleans this weekend, and while the state title game is in the rear-view mirror, Davis said the memory might give her a little extra motivation against the Cardinals.
“Now, she’s on a bigger stage,” Davis said. “She’s getting another chance of actually getting to that spot again and achieving it.”