Let’s rewind back to Jan. 14, 2006. The Cal women’s basketball team was preparing for its big Bay Area showdown with then- No. 14 Stanford when former Cal head coach Joanne Boyle had to rush back home to North Carolina to tend to her ill father.
With the Bears’ biggest conference game around the corner, it was up to 29-year-old assistant coach Lindsay Gottlieb to act as the interim head coach for the night. This was the first glimpse of head coach Gottlieb that we now know all too well.
Six years older and infinitely wiser, Gottlieb is now the first-year head coach at Cal. This Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m., Gottlieb and the Bears (15-5, 6-2 in the Pac-12) are heading down to Maples Pavilion, the birthplace of Gottlieb’s head coaching career, to topple the No. 4 Cardinal from their Pac-12 throne.
Many will expect a similar result to the aforementioned game, when Cal lost to Stanford, 87-75. It will take a herculean effort from the Bears to upset their rivals on their home court, where the Cardinal have won 73 straight games.
Stanford (17-1, 8-0) has been nearly invincible this season, its only loss coming at No. 3 Connecticut. The squad is so well-rounded and well-coached that it’s hard to find an Achilles’ heel to exploit.
The two biggest assets to the Cardinal are the two-headed post monsters known as the Ogwumike sisters. Nneka, the older Ogwumike, averages 22.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game, leading the conference in both statistics. But in the past few weeks, it has been younger sister Chiney heating up for the Cardinal — she has received the Pac-12 Player of the Week for two consecutive weeks.
If there is a Pac-12 team that can stop the Ogwumikes from dominating the game, though, it’s Cal.
Led by forward Gennifer Brandon, who averages 11 boards per game, the Bears’ four post players will try to keep the Ogwumikes away from the glass.
But even then, Gottlieb knows that no one, not even her deep post rotation, can completely shut down the Ogwumikes.
“I don’t think anyone stops the Ogwumikes,” Gottlieb said. “Hopefully, we can limit their easy points better than other teams have.”
Cal, meanwhile, has been as hot as Stanford coming into this marquee contest. The Bears have won six straight games, the latest an exciting tilt against Washington State that came down to the last minute of the game.
But the most encouraging aspect in their winning streak has been the variety of ways Cal has been able to get the victories. Whether it be a 12-point comeback against Colorado or the down-to-the-wire victory over the Cougars, Gottlieb has taken pride in the Bears’ ability to dictate the tempo of the game in crunch time rather than react to the other teams’ strategies.
The Bears have demonstrated this season that they have enough talent to upset a top-25 team, but the potential has not yet translated to success on the court. Cal lost to No. 13 Rutgers and No. 14 Ohio State by three and two points, respectively.
But things have changed since those losses. The Bears are now a more versatile team with improved performances from their guards. Although the chances look slim, an upset at Maples Pavilion can be a huge boost to Gottlieb’s ultimate goal.
“We are on a quest to become one of the elite teams in the country,” Gottlieb said. “This win would be a huge stamp in our resume.”