Oftentimes in sports, when you come in as heavy favorites it can be easy to lose motivation and let down your guard. Ask any team that’s been in this position — it’s easy to overlook an opponent and let the game slip away. For the No. 25 Cal women’s basketball team, it’ll need to maintain a sense of urgency when the team takes on San Diego.
To say that the Bears are far from a complete and polished team is an understatement. The team has played well in its recent string of nonconference games, but still looks like a team searching for its identity. Games like the one this week present Cal with a valuable opportunity to improve ahead of what looks like a formidable Pac-12 season.
While there has been much flux for the team this season, one constant has been the sublime play of junior Kristine Anigwe. She has continued to live up to the hype of being named to the preseason Wooden Award watch list player and has been the go-to scoring option for the team thus far. Along with Anigwe, junior Asha Thomas has also played a more pivotal role as a playmaker and scorer.
While Anigwe and Thomas were expected to be solid players for the team, not many expected freshman Kianna Smith to get off to such a hot start. With sophomore Mi’Cole Cayton out for the season with a knee injury, Smith has made the most of her opportunity and has been a reliable player who Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb can count on.
The Bears’ biggest need for improvement comes on the defensive side of the ball. Against Seattle and Santa Clara, Cal has gotten away with poor closeouts and missed defensive assignments. This is an area of the team’s game that Cal will look to correct this week against San Diego.
Another point of emphasis is the amount of turnovers that the team is committing. In the last two games against Santa Clara and Seattle, the team gave up 14 and 12 turnovers, respectively. Simply stated, the team cannot afford these mistakes as stiffer competition will make Cal pay the price.
As in their previous two affairs, the Bears will look to come out of the gates fast. Aside from securing the victory, the team will also look to improve upon some of their weaknesses while continuing to build chemistry and trust ahead of the much-anticipated Pac-12 season.
All in all, this probably isn’t the most exciting game for the Bears all season, but it still is an important one. A bad loss here would not only be a huge confidence killer but it would also likely knock the team out of the top-25 and have repercussions come seeding time for March Madness. As a relatively young squad looking to get better each and every game, the team must view games like this one as valuable stepping stones to become more cohesive and refined.
Praveen Kuruppu covers men’s golf. Contact him at