It’s now or never for the Bears.
The season may very well be on the line this weekend for the Cal women’s basketball team (17-11, 5-11 Pac-12) as it closes out the regular season with away games against Oregon (18-10, 8-8) and No. 10 Oregon State (25-3, 14-2). For the Bears to make the NCAA Tournament, they’ll likely need at least a win or two to impress the selection committee.
“If we can get a couple more wins, it would be really hard to keep us out,” said Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “But we have to get a couple more. That’s how we’ve felt the last few weeks here. We will go up to Oregon like these are tournament games, like we have a lot to play for because we do.”
After a promising start to the season, the Bears have done themselves no favors in conference play. Cal has now lost four consecutive games, although the team almost pulled off an upset against then-No. 10 Stanford on Feb. 16. But at the end of the day, it’s wins and not good-performances-in-losses that impress the committee the most.
Unfortunately for the Bears, they might have accrued too many of the latter. Their resume includes signature wins over then-No. 20 Oklahoma and then-No. 13 UCLA, but it’s their late-game performances in close losses that will really haunt them.
Cal’s previous game against Oregon was exhibit A of what not to do in the fourth quarter. In that game, the Bears were up 65-59 with 30 seconds left to play. Inexplicably, Cal found itself tied at 66-all as Oregon held the ball for the final shot. Oregon freshman Sabrina Ionsecu then hit a game-winning three-pointer to hand the Bears one of their most frustrating losses of the season.
Coming into this game, Oregon is tied for fifth in the conference, where a win over the Bears would help solidify its place in the NCAA Tournament. The Ducks are led by Oregon freshman Ruthy Hebard, who leads the Pac-12 in shooting percentage, and junior Lexi Bando, who leads the nation in three-point field goal percentage. In addition to her game winner, Ionsecu also set a NCAA freshman record with four triple-doubles thus far this season.
Meanwhile, the Bears are in a four-way tie for seventh in the conference. They’ll need better production from Kristine Anigwe, who was shut down against Stanford in their last two games. One could argue that Cal’s over-reliance on Anigwe has made it susceptible to effective defensive gameplans by opponents in conference play. The Bears haven’t been able to consistently pick up the slack offensively and that has proven to be its Achilles heel.
Cal can still control its destiny, but it won’t be easy. The Bears have shown the potential to beat a top team or two, and so wins over talented teams like Oregon and Oregon State would certainly give the Bears a late boost in the selection process.
“This is a postseason team, it’s just a matter of which postseason tournament we’re in,” Gottlieb said.
Jeffrey Liu covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]