Bears looking to tower over St. Mary’s

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Michael Tao/Staff

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After a dominating win against Lehigh in the season opener, Cal women’s basketball is hungrily looking for another prey against the nearby Saint Mary’s squad. On Thursday at 7 p.m., the Bears will welcome the Gaels into Haas Pavilion.

The game is a second look at head coach Lindsay’s Gottlieb team after a dominant 80-48 victory over Lehigh last week. In that game, Gottlieb emphasized a balanced attack and strong defense, and the Bears granted her demands last Friday.

Four of the five starting players recorded double-digit points, and all players received at least 10 minutes of playtime. Cal was also fierce on defense with 12 steals and 19 forced turnovers.

“We started the game with a lot of energy and asserted how we wanted to play,” Gottlieb said. “Our defense, both in forcing turnovers and creating stops, was really good.”

This week the team will look for more of the same, perhaps with even more help from their bigs.

The towering trio of forwards Gennifer Brandon and Reshanda Gray and center Talia Caldwell are all key components of the Bears’ game plan each week. Last year, the trio notched 22.6 rebounds per game and kept perfect pace despite limited minutes last week against Lehigh.

Against Saint Mary’s, the trio might have even more opportunities to show their stuff. The Gaels’ starts four guards, substituting in 5-foot-9 guard Danielle Mauldin as their second forward. While their other post players matches well in size with Caldwell, the freshman Mauldin will have a difficult time matching up against the 6-foot-2 Brandon or 6-foot-3 Gray.

To counter the Bears’ size, Saint Mary’s will likely use a sagging zone defense that allows crowding near the basket. This defense targets one of Cal’s best offensive moves — speedy guards driving into the paint for a layup.

Lehigh used a similar zone tactic to limit points in the paint but with little success. Since the Gaels’ forwards are even smaller than Lehigh’s, Cal’s bigs should have a field day.

“A lot of teams will use (zone) because we’re very athletic and can use post in the paint,” junior guard Avigiel Cohen said. “We’ve just got to prove we’ve got the best post in the west coast.”

With limited options inside, Saint Mary’s will have to look to its wing players. But the view from the outside looking in isn’t much better.

The Gaels’ are shooting a dismal 34.5% on the year, far lower than the 40.1% they reached last season. Their long range shooting isn’t encouraging either, at 28.6% two games into the season.

Coupled with Cal’s penchant for stifling perimeter defense, Saint Mary’s should be scrapping for points. Sophomore Brittany Boyd was an honorable mention for Pac-12 All-Defensive Team last year and Eliza Pierre, who notched a team-high three steals against Lehigh, was a two-time choice Pac-12 All-Defensive Team.

If anything, the top thing the Bears will be defending this weekend is their reputation. Their Bay area rivals are coming off a high after notching a win against Oregon, and the Bears want to keep them in check.

“We have this feeling that they don’t respect us as much,” Cohen said. “After they came back with a win, they think that they can compete with the Pac-12. We want to show them that there’s still a difference.”

Vincent Tzeng covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]

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