Thursday’s matchup between Kentucky (8-4) and No. 24 Cal (8-2) is a tale of two teams going in different directions at the moment. The Wildcats are currently on a three-game losing streak while the Bears have won their last five games in convincing fashion. All signs, however, point to a tightly contested matchup between two programs hungry for a win.
During Cal’s winning streak, the Bears have outscored opponents by an average of 21 points. The success during their streak can partially be contributed to their stout defensive play and ability to throttle opponents on the offensive end. Through much of its recent run, Cal has looked like a team in free-flowing motion that has been clicking on all cylinders. Over this streak, the most notable improvement has been the team’s ball movement, which has led to more open shots and a higher field goal percentage.
When the Bears travel to Lexington to take on the Wildcats, however, things may not be as easy. Although Kentucky has lost its last three outings, the team has an overall winning record of 8-4. In addition, Kentucky has played two top-10 opponents this year in No. 6 Baylor and No. 3 Louisville and comes into this matchup with plenty of good game experience.
The Wildcats are led by junior guard Maci Morris, who leads the team in scoring with an average of 15.8 points per game. Morris is complemented by fellow guard junior guard Taylor Murray, and together they make up a formidable back court. Morris and Murray present a challenge to the Bears’ backcourt, which will have its hands full on the defensive side.
Despite an undoubtedly strong backcourt, the same can’t be said for the frontcourt. This is something that the Bears will be looking to exploit. Junior Kristine Anigwe will look to have a dominant game and take advantage of the weaker opposition. With the defense trying to converge on the paint to limit easy baskets, there will likely be plenty of open 3-point opportunities that the Bears will look to convert.
One important point to watch in this game, aside from the backcourt matchup, will be whether the Bears will be able to take advantage on the glass and earn second-chance opportunities. During Cal’s winning streak, this has been something that the team has been able to capitalize on. Additionally, the Bears have done a much better job limiting turnovers, something that derailed the team at the beginning of the season. But now on the road, turnovers will be an interesting facet of the game to pay attention to.
Overall, a difficult road test awaits the Bears. Kentucky has plenty of motivation to get back to its winning ways and halt Cal’s recent run of success. The Bears, on the other hand, will look to conclude their nonconference play against a formidable SEC opponent with a win. With Pac-12 play only a few days away, the Bears have one last chance to iron out their kinks and head into this upcoming season with confidence at a high.
Praveen Kuruppu covers men’s golf. Contact him at