Cal women’s basketball team prepare for stiffest challenge all year

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On Friday, the No. 20 Cal women’s basketball team will face its toughest opponent all season: No. 1 Connecticut. In the history of women’s collegiate basketball, no team has been as dominant as the Huskies. After winning the NCAA Championship four times in the past five years and owning a record 111-game win streak, it’s safe to say UConn has been the cream of the crop.

This season, the story is the same for the Huskies. In fact, this team may be even better than in previous years, which is flat-out scary considering the success that this storied program has had in the past. With five UConn players among the 30 preseason Wooden Award candidates, it’s safe to say that the Bears come into this matchup as heavy underdogs.

Cal is coming off a hard-fought victory over Saint Mary’s, but in the process, the team lost sophomore Mi’Cole Cayton for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. This is a huge loss for the team, as Cayton was poised to have a breakout season after a strong freshman year.

Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb will need other players to step up and fill the void of production — namely, freshman Kianna Smith. Smith played well in her first collegiate game, with eight points and three assists off the bench. The freshman will likely have to play a much larger role to help mitigate the loss of Cayton.

Cayton’s injury also means that even more is going to be asked of junior Kristine Anigwe. Anigwe played well in her first game this season, with 17 points on 6-10 shooting. But even more will be asked of her if Cal is to have any chance of keeping pace with UConn’s high-octane offense.

One positive takeaway from the team’s first game was the presence of balanced scoring. Six Bears were in double figures, making it hard for the Gaels to focus on one player. Against UConn, this will be something that Cal must look to continue upon.

Ultimately, for the Bears to have any chance to win, they must improve several facets of their game. Specifically, the team has to be better from three-point land, as the team only managed to shoot 32 percent. Additionally, Cal must make taking care of the ball a bigger priority. Against a team like UConn, 17 turnovers will simply not give the team a chance to win.

On defense, the Bears will have to make the game uncomfortable for the Huskies. This means getting in the passing lanes, limiting second chance opportunities and making strong contestations of all shots. For Cal, the team will not only have to play a near-perfect game but also hope that the Huskies are off their game. This is obviously a lot to ask, but anything is possible in basketball.

Overall, heading into this early-season test, Cal must understand that it has nothing to lose. The team has an opportunity to play freely and not worry about the result. At the end of the day, this is an opportunity for the players to step up and prove themselves for the remainder of the season — and possibly walk away with the greatest upset in the team’s history.

Praveen Kuruppu covers women’s golf. Contact him at [email protected].