Gennifer Brandon walked off the court at halftime of the Cal women’s basketball team’s game with Southern Cal on Thursday dissatisfied with her performance. She had six points and 11 rebounds, but she missed a few easy shots.
As the Bears returned to the floor, the junior turned to teammate Talia Caldwell for solace.
“She was like, ‘Go for the boards and everything else will just follow,’” Brandon said.
Caldwell’s advice paid off. Brandon picked up another 15 rebounds to set a Pac-12 Conference single-game record with 26, and she scored an additional 16 points to lead No. 7 Cal (15-2, 5-1 Pac-12) to a 71-63 overtime win. Brandon followed up the performance with 12 points and 14 rebounds against No. 19 UCLA, earning Pac-12 Player of the Week honors.
“We’d lost to [USC] three times in a row and it was just like, they’re not going to get this win — not tonight,” Brandon said in regards to her breakout performance against the Trojans.
It wasn’t Brandon’s first 20-20 performance: She picked up 24 points and 24 rebounds against Ohio State last season and as a freshman, she barely missed the mark, scoring 19 points while grabbing 21 boards in a WNIT bout with UC Davis.
In 87 college games, Brandon’s recorded 26 double-doubles. She currently leads the Pac-12 with 11.4 rebounds per game and she’s third in the conference’s active list with 837 total boards.
Brandon showed a knack for rebounding when she first started playing basketball at age 12. From the beginning, her coaches encouraged her to crash the glass.
“When I was younger, they would say, ‘If you get this amount of rebounds, that’s how many Skittles you’ll get,’” Brandon said. “Because I’m a candy addict.”
The 6-foot-2 forward inherited her exceptional leaping ability from her biological father, Gregory Brandon, who played college basketball at Creighton and was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics.
“We look dead-on,” she said. “If he had long hair, he’d look like me.”
In high school, Brandon was a 2009 McDonald’s All-American, averaging 21.2 points per game during her senior year at Chatsworth High School near Los Angeles.
As a freshman at Cal, she led the team on the glass with 8.5 boards per game coming off the bench. But she sat out the 2010-11 season after suffering a stress fracture in her shin.
“It was tough, but I tried to look at it from a different perspective, like what can I get out of it,” she said.
Brandon was concerned that the injury would impact her vertical leap, but she returned to set a school record with 346 rebounds last season.
This year, Cal is hoping to land a spot in the Final Four and Brandon is looking to grab as many rebounds as possible to get them there.
“I like to think of hands as magnets,” she said.
WHEN: Friday, 8 p.m.
WHERE: Haas Pavilion, Berkeley
TV: Pac-12 Networks