In the tightest race for the Pac-12 regular season title in recent history, only two schools in the Pacific Northwest stand in Cal and Stanford’s way this weekend.
With the No. 6 Bears only a half-game behind the No. 4 Cardinal, both teams travel north to play Washington and Washington State. If both Cal and Stanford finish the weekend with identical records, the Bay Area rivals will share the trophy.
For Stanford (26-2, 15-1 in the Pac-12), the title will be the 22nd in program history. For Cal (25-2, 15-1), it will be the first ever. If the Bears become Pac-12 champions, shared or outright, it will be the first time since 2000 a school not named Stanford won the conference.
While Cal play the Cougars first in a 6 p.m. bout on Thursday at Pullman, Wash., first, the main focus of the weekend will be against the Huskies at Seattle on Saturday afternoon.
Washington State, barring a supernatural turnaround, are not strong enough to defeat the Bay Area schools. Seven games below .500, the Cougars (10-17, 6-10) have lost four of its last five contests.
On the other hand, Washington (19-8, 11-5) has the potential to blow up not only the title chase but also the upcoming March Madness bracket. Once sitting in the March Madness bubble, the Huskies are in dire need of a signature win after losing to conference bottom dweller Utah and No. 19 Colorado.
If Washington is going to pull off one miracle upset this weekend, it most likely won’t be against Stanford. Three players, most noticeably guard and the team’s leading scorer Jazmine Davis, will be suspended for Thursday’s game against Stanford for unspecified reasons.
Washington’s suspensions basically hand the Cardinal the win on a silver platter. The Huskies will only have six scholarship players and one walk-on available to play on Thursday. The loss of Davis and forward Talia Walton, who together account for 50 percent of the team’s total points per game, will be irreplaceable.
Unfortunately for Cal, Davis and Walton will return on Saturday. Both players, as leaders of the backcourt and the frontcourt respectively, will cause some defensive headaches for Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb’s club.
Davis, who is second in the Pac-12 in points per game with 19.2, has been the offensive heart of the Huskies. The 5-foot-7 point guard has a wide selection of shots in her repertoire; Davis is second in the conference in 3-point percentage with .381.
Davis, Walton and guard Kristi Kingma, make up the triumvirate of Washington’s squad. As the only players who score in double digits, all three will need to find ways to score against the airtight Cal defense.
Matching up against Davis, Kingma and Walton defensively will be Brittany Boyd, Layshia Clarendon and Gennifer Brandon. The three pillars of Gottlieb’s high-energy philosophy will be the main point manufacturers.
Very few in the nation have been as good as Clarendon and Brandon this season. Clarendon is one of 30 candidates for the 2013 Naismith Women’s College Basketball Player of the Year award, and Brandon is one of 20 names for the USWBA Ann Meyers Drysdale Award.