Some things are just known facts: The sky is blue, the grass is green and Kristine Anigwe is the reigning National Freshman of the Year according to the U.S. Basketball Writers Association — arguably making her one of the best players in all of women’s college basketball. And if last year was any indication of her abilities, this one is set to be magical for the Cal women’s basketball team.
Anigwe’s numbers last year were almost unfathomable. She led all freshmen in Power 5 conference schools with 567 regular season points and averaged 20.3 points and 8.9 rebounds per game in the regular season. Her numbers, impressive on their own, were made all the more so by their consistency: She managed to put up double-digit scoring performances in 30 of her team’s 31 regular season games.
And since Anigwe only has room to improve, she could be averaging a double-double at the end of this upcoming season. The statistic may seem far out of reach, but Anigwe is gifted with the skill, leadership and drive to make it possible.
Anigwe and her teammates may also be able to attain this greatness thanks to a superb coaching staff filled with veteran knowledge. Head coach Lindsay Gottlieb has been on the job since 2011 and has been coaching collegiate basketball since 1999. She has shown that she is striving for a Bears team that resides in the upper echelon of collegiate basketball. And so far she’s helped achieve that: In her five seasons at Cal, she has guided her team to NCAA appearances in four of them.
Next comes associate head coach Charmin Smith, who boasts nine years on the Bears’ coaching staff — the most of any on the bench. With a keen ability to focus in on individual talents, Smith plays an integral role in selecting and honing the skills of specific position players, a craft that will improve players like Anigwe to their full potential.
The last veteran on the coaching staff is assistant coach Kai Felton, who, like Gottlieb, has worked with the Bears since 2011. With a wealth of recruiting and coaching knowledge from four years at USC along with experience coaching alongside Gottlieb, Felton rounds off a highly competent coaching staff with high aims for this season and the future of Cal women’s basketball.
While the Bears boast a diverse coaching staff, they also boast a deeper and more varied lineup than last year. With 11 on the roster (as opposed to nine from the 2015-16 season), Gottlieb has the freedom to experiment with a wider range of possible lineups. The list includes two centers, four guards and five forwards, granting Gottlieb a wealth of possible variations in formations that were not available to her last year. And because a lack of a deep bench is something that hurt Cal last year, this newfound depth could prove to be a real game changer for the team projected to finish sixth in the Pac-12 this year.
That depth, in part thanks to superior recruiting done by the Bears’ coaching staff, comes in the form of Mi’Cole Cayton, Celeste West and Jaelyn Brown. Cayton, ranked as the No. 17 guard in the nation, brings active defense and speedy offense to Cal. West was ranked as the No. 15 post player in her national graduating class and has shown a propensity for physicality and toughness in the post. Brown, also a guard, provides explosiveness with her left-handed game.
While it is a fact that Cal has the players and coaches to excel this season, it remains to be seen whether it will in fact be able to take full advantage of those assets. Competing in the exceedingly competitive Pac-12 has proved to be tough for the Bears in the past, but with superpowers like Anigwe and coaching veterans like Gottlieb, the road to the top could be a little smoother this time around.
Sophie Goethals covers women’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected]