Brittany Boyd and Talia Caldwell helped No. 8 Cal overcome a noisy gym and some poor shooting.
Boyd scored 18 points and Caldwell added 16 as the Bears beat Northwestern 71-65 Monday in Evanston, Ill.
"This was a game we can take a lot away from," Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. "(Northwestern) played well, and the crowd was phenomenal."
A crowd of 4,958, largely from Chicago area schools, made it difficult at times for the Bears.
"This is exactly why you schedule games like this," Gottlieb said. "To be on the road in a tournament-like atmosphere and have to respond to adversity."
Gennifer Brandon's three-point play with 3:04 left put Cal (8-1) ahead for good. The Golden Bears shot 26 for 64 (39.1 percent) from the field.
Karly Roser scored 16 points for Northwestern (6-4).
AP poll: Stanford remained No. 1 in The Associated Press rankings for the fifth straight week. Connecticut, Baylor, Duke and Notre Dame rounded out the first five.
Syracuse 72, Detroit 68: Jim Boeheim became the third Division I men's coach to reach 900 wins as the No. 3 Orange (10-0) defeated the visiting Titans (6-5).
Santa Clara 72, Cal Poly 64: Marc Trasolini scored 24 points on 9-for-12 shooting and Evan Roquemore scored 16 as the Broncos (9-2) defeated the Mustangs (4-5) at the Leavey Center.
Missouri 102, South Carolina State 51: Jabari Brown, playing in his first game since Nov. 17, 2011, when he was a freshman at Oregon, scored 12 points to help the No. 12 Tigers (9-1) rout the visiting Bulldogs (4-7). Brown, a former Oakland High star, transferred last year and became eligible at the end of the first semester.
AP poll: Duke replaced Indiana atop the rankings after Butler handed the Hoosiers their first loss Saturday. Michigan moved up to second and Syracuse to third.