The Cal women’s basketball team hasn’t played a foe from California since Dec. 8 — a decisive 97-73 win against Sacramento State. But this weekend, it will be facing two opponents from its home state: No. 13 UCLA and USC. Since the win against Sacramento, the Bears’ 8-0 record has turned sour, to a less impressive 15-7, and they have plummeted to the nether-regions of the Pac-12 rankings.
Perhaps Cal (15-7, 3-7) can dig into its past and channel the playing style that helped it to an undefeated record back in December. Or maybe it’ll remain in its pattern of poor play and fall even further.
The Bears’ first opponent of the weekend will be the Bruins (17-4, 8-2), who Cal will take on at Haas Pavilion on Friday evening. UCLA is on an impressive six-game win streak, recently beating teams like Arizona and No. 23 Arizona State that the Bears have fallen to.
The Bruins’ lineup is filled with impressive player after impressive player. To begin, junior guard Jordin Canada is a force on offense. She’s scored in the double digits in her past 27 games (going back to last year), while going .353 from behind the arch. But most of her points are scored by driving to the basket or hitting mid-range jumpers, making her tough to guard — especially for a Cal defense that has seemed flat-footed in many of its recent contests. If she drives, she’s also likely to create open looks for her teammates and feed them the ball — she leads the team with 68 assists.
But Canada, whom many regard as UCLA’s best player, isn’t even the team’s highest scorer. While she’s averaging 17.7 points per game, junior forward Monique Billings is averaging 18.9. Billings also leads her team in rebounds, at 112, which will make her tough competition down low for the Bears’ star forward Kristine Anigwe.
The list of talented Bruins players really could go on and on: Kennedy Burke averages 12.5 points per game and shoots an impressive .427 field goal percentage. Kari Korver, UCLA’s best three-point shooter has an impressive 35.3 percentage after having shot 68 threes.
The lesson here is clear — Cal has to play some stellar defense in order to keep the Bruins’ many offensive weapons at bay if it wants a chance to win this game. It’s a win that could be a season changer for the Bears, who haven’t beaten a ranked opponent since December.
Cal’s next opponent will undoubtedly be easier competition than UCLA, as USC (12-9, 3-7) has the same losing conference record as the Bears. With that being said, the Trojans are not to be underestimated. They’ve beaten Arizona and Arizona State in the past week, and that’s no small accomplishment.
USC has four players averaging at least 10 points per game, while, comparatively, the Bears have just two players who consistently average double digits: Anigwe and Courtney Range. One of the Trojans’ star players, Courtney Jaco, has hit 51 of her 114 three-point attempts — a rate that demands the defensive attention of Cal’s guards.
Recently, the Bears have suffered from a plague of turnovers. Against Washington State they gave up the ball 24 times, and in their most recent matchup against Arizona they gave up 17. Even if an opponent is only able to convert about half of these turnovers into points, Cal is forfeiting valuable possessions that it doesn’t have the ability to make up for.
Offensively, the Bears will need more than just Anigwe. Asha Thomas, who is streaky at best when it comes to scoring, is going to have to buckle down and produce tangible offensive results. If Cal wants to beat either or both of these California foes it will need to do better on both ends of the court — and maybe, just maybe, it’ll prove that it deserves a ranking in the upper half of the Pac-12.
Sophie Goethals is the assistant sports editor. Contact her at [email protected]