Hindsight is 20/20 for the Cal women’s basketball team.
On their first conference road trip of the year, the Bears (13-5, 4-2 in the Pac-12) suffered a mighty and embarrassing sweep at the hands of UCLA and USC. In both games, the team shot under 30 percent from the field, and despite outrebounding both opponents, Cal couldn’t capitalize on its own second chances.
“There was nothing to do but come home and as a group put (the blame) on us,” said coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “It was an old-fashioned butt-whooping. We took it, we got better from it, and we moved on.”
Four straight wins in the weeks following the L.A. trip revealed quite the turnaround, and Thursday’s 7 p.m. contest against Washington will make or break that streak.
Like the majority of the Pac-12 teams, Washington is nothing spectacular. The Huskies (10-5, 2-3) have a bloated and misleading overall record, mostly the result of beating mediocre teams early in the season. The squad already has a losing record in the conference, and its toughest matchups only start with Cal.
However, with memories of the surprise loss to bottom-dwelling UCLA still fresh, the Bears won’t undervalue their opponents. Washington might not have the stats to prove it, but the team nonetheless presents a challenge in the form of two solid players: center Regina Rogers, who leads the conference with a 65 percent field goal percentage, and guard Jazmine Davis.
For Cal, that challenge is simple to see yet difficult to overcome. With Rogers at the post and Davis on the perimeter, the Bears must choose which athlete to press and cover.
“They do a lot of sets that make you choose,” Gottlieb said. “Concentrate your efforts in the post on shutting down Regina, or try and guard the perimeter.”
Since the onset of the season Cal has lauded its own post play, and its rebounding margin of 17 tops every team in the nation. Yet as the Bears forge deeper into their season, increasing physicality from opponents shuts down the post and instead forces the guards to make clutch shots.
“Post play is always going to be part of our identity,” Gottlieb said. “But I think that playing fast and having guards who can make shots is part of that, too.”
As a whole, Cal thrives under second-half pressure, and a deep bench yields an almost constant rotation of fresh players and little drop-off in performance.
“We certainly don’t want to start slowly, or we don’t want to let people hang around,” Gottlieb said. “But we feel like if it’s a tight game, down the stretch we’re going to have fresher legs.”
Aside from post play, speed in transition most defines Cal women’s basketball. A perfect drive is one in which Gennifer Brandon nabs a defensive board that Brittany Boyd or Eliza Pierre seamlessly delivers to the other end of the court.
But as Cal learned in Los Angeles, speed without control can quickly lead to sloppiness.