Through most of December, the Bears have faced mediocre teams. Until facing Georgetown in the Cal Classic, none was even from a major Division I conference. With a 31 point per game advantage through the first five games, Cal hasn’t quite received a serious threat all season.
That all changes this weekend as the No. 10 Bears (5-0) travel to the East coast to face Old Dominion in Ted Constant Convocation Center in Norfolk, Va. on Friday at 7 p.m. They’ll then travel to play the marquee matchup of the weekend in women’s basketball against No. 4 Duke on Sunday at 2 p.m. in Durham, N.C.
Before getting to Duke though, the Bears will have to start against Old Dominion. The undefeated Lady Monarchs (4-0) have been just as hot as Cal entering the season, dominating their opponents by an average of 22.5 points per game.
“A lot of teams tend to prepare for the bigger match,” junior guard Afure Jemerigbe said. “But we focus on what’s next on the table.”
But Friday’s game is all but a warm-up for Sunday’s tilt with the beasts of the East.
In many facets, the Blue Devils (5-0) are similar to the Bears. They have yet to face a team any harder than the Bears. Duke also has outscored opponents by 38.6 points per game.
Duke has a star at point guard, Chelsea Gray, to match Cal’s own, Brittany Boyd. The junior guard has been prolific on offense, scoring 16.4 points per game and dishing out seven assists per game.
She was named to the All-ACC First Team last year and broke Duke’s single-season assists record with 201.
“There’ll be different matchups defensively on Chelsea Gray,” Jeremigbe said. “Doesn’t matter if it’s Layshia, Boyd or me on her — when she has the ball we’re going to play tough defense.”
Like Cal, Duke also owns its own triple threat under the post in centers Elizabeth Williams and Allison Vernerey and forward Haley Peters. Williams is second on the team in scoring and recently dominated Michigan in the paint to the tune of 19 points.
She and Vernerey are also steadfast around the basket – each has 15 blocks already. For comparison, the entire Cal team only has five blocks total this season.
Even with the threats inside, the Bears will have to keep an eye outside the paint. Duke has been shooting lights out lately with 50.9 percent from the field and 53.8 percent from beyond the arc against Michigan on Wednesday.
With both teams usually employing a suffocating full-court press, the game might just come down to who can maximize on each possession. For the Bears, they’ll have their best chance when the Blue Devils switch to their zone defense.
Since Cal’s guards are especially deadly driving into the paint, the Bears will need big games from both Clarendon and Boyd.
Vincent Tzeng covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]