After dropping its first matchup this week against No. 15 Stanford (18-5, 8-3 Pac-12) on Tuesday, the Cal women’s basketball team will look to bounce back against the rival Cardinal on Friday. Unlike the first encounter, Friday’s game will be at home for the Bears, where they’ve played notably better.
Despite a season record of 11-11 (2-9 Pac-12), Cal boasts an 8-3 record at Haas Pavilion, including a nail-biting double-overtime victory against a ranked UCLA squad. Much of its success at home, however, has come from victories over weaker teams in the early nonconference portion of the team’s schedule. In Pac-12 play, the Bears are just 2-2 at home.
Recently, Cal has been on a slide, winning just one of its last eight games, and has fallen from being ranked in the top 20 to not receiving votes for the top 25. Though the Bears’ chances at earning a bid to the NCAA tournament are now slim, a victory against a ranked opponent — and a longtime program rival — could be a big step for the inexperienced Bears.
To be successful in its second bout against Stanford, Cal will need to find a way to commit defensively in the same way it did in the early part of Tuesday’s game. The Bears held the Cardinal to just eight points in the first quarter, and looked poised for an upset victory. Down the stretch, Cal’s defense faltered and the team missed shots at crucial junctures of the game, allowing Stanford to pull away with the victory. This time around, the Bears will need to figure out how to sustain their efforts on defense for all 40 minutes of the game, while dealing with a roster containing only seven active players. For Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb, who holds an impressive 0.717 winning percentage since 2011, this means managing rotations and getting starters the necessary rest without letting the reserves hinder the team.
In order to contain Stanford defensively, Cal will need to figure out ways to make junior guard Lili Thompson uncomfortable. Thompson, a recipient of multiple Pac-12 Player of the Week awards this season, shot an uncharacteristic 0-10 to start the previous game. Her slow start was a combination of the Bears’ defense and a bad shooting night, but it’s unlikely she will perform as inefficiently for a second game in a row. Cal has an advantage in size, with Stanford sporting a three-guard starting lineup compared to Cal’s four forwards, and can use the length on its roster to challenge Thompson.
On offense, the Bears will need more from its starters. In its last matchup with the Cardinal, Cal had only two players score in double-digits: junior forward Courtney Range and freshman forward Kristine Anigwe, the team’s leading scorer. Freshman guard Asha Thomas has recently emerged as an offensive threat for the Bears as well, scoring 22 points with six three-pointers in a loss against Washington last week. Thomas was held scoreless against Stanford on Tuesday and will need to be more aggressive in looking for her shot Friday, especially when double- and triple-teams are inevitably sent Anigwe’s way. If Thomas is able to develop into a consistent offensive option, the load on Anigwe and Range to carry the team is diminished.
Kapil Kashyap covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]