After a spanking at the hands of No. 14 UCLA (10-3) on New Year’s Eve at Haas Pavilion, the No. 23 Cal Women’s basketball team (10-3) will hope that a new year brings new fortune. On Friday, Cal will play its first game of the new year on the road in Tempe, Arizona against No. 25 Arizona State (11-3). This road test is certainly not an easy one as the Sun Devils come into this contest on a four-game winning streak and are undefeated in all six home games thus far.
A few days off will provide the Bears with a fresh opportunity to hit the restart button and get back to playing the type of ball that characterized their recent seven-game winning streak.
Like Cal, the Sun Devils fell victim to the injury bug early in the season when star junior guard Sabrina Haines was sidelined for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL during the ASU Classic. Despite the setback, the team has still been rolling along and has relied on other players to carry the load. In particular, sophomore guard Reili Richardson has played a larger role this season after having a stellar freshman campaign when she earned Pac-12 All-Freshman Team honorable mention honors. Richardson is complemented by junior forward Kianna Ibis, who leads the team in scoring at nearly 12.9 points per game.
While Arizona State does not have a bona fide star player in terms of scoring or dominance like Cal has in junior forward Kristine Anigwe, it does have a plethora of different scoring options. This balanced attack makes ASU a formidable opponent that will present challenges for the Bears on defense.
On the offensive side, Cal is coming off a forgettable performance against the Bruins. In the second quarter against UCLA, the Bears managed to score just four points. If this was the first time this happened, perhaps it could be seen as an anomaly. Unfortunately, this was not the first time this season the Bears scored less than five points in a quarter, as they only scored three points against No. 1 UConn in a quarter earlier this year.
The bottom line is that stretches of play where Cal struggles to score simply won’t cut it. Aside from Anigwe, senior guard Mikayla Cowling and junior guard Asha Thomas, head coach Lindsay Gottlieb has lacked consistent offensive production from other complementary players. While guards like sophomore Jaelyn Brown and freshman Kianna Smith have showed flashes of strong play, at other times they have been nonfactors that have struggled to find their offensive flow. In order for the Bears to be competitive with other top teams in the country, Cal will need these players to step up to the plate, especially in the upcoming conference matchups.
Friday’s showdown is scheduled to be a closely fought game between two teams that are relatively evenly matched. Overall though, one thing is for certain: Cal will come out with a renewed sense of energy and purpose given the opportunity that the new year provides.
Praveen Kuruppu covers women’s basketball. Contact him at