No. 23 Cal women’s basketball ready to take care of business against Arizona schools

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One of the beauties of conference play is that some teams get to play opponents more than once. This weekend, the No. 23 Cal women’s basketball team will get the chance to take on both Arizona and No. 25 Arizona State for a second time.

When the Bears visited Tempe and Tucson earlier this season, both games went down to the wire, with Cal eventually splitting the two matchups.

This time around on their home court, the Bears hope that they can build off their hard-fought win last weekend against USC and secure two more vital Pac-12 victories.

On Friday, Cal will look to prove that their 2-point victory against Arizona was no fluke. In their previous encounter, the Bears heavily relied on senior guard Mikayla Cowling, who had a game-high 19 points on 5 of 9 shooting from three.

The meeting was closely contested from start to finish, but the Bears were able to muster enough offense and provide several key stops down the stretch to help seal the victory.

The Wildcats, who have lost seven of their last eight games in conference play, will come into the contest hungry for a big victory. At this point, postseason aspirations appear bleak barring a miracle for Arizona.

Despite Arizona’s overall poor play, senior guard JaLea Bennett has been a bright spot this season. The senior from Texas has drastically improved her production, jumping from 6.9 points per game last season to 15.1 points this season. Cal will look to make it a priority to limit Bennett, who was effective in the team’s first meeting.

On Sunday, Cal will likely face a sterner test when Arizona State visits Haas Pavilion. The last time around, juniors Asha Thomas and Kristine Anigwe both had big games, recording 25 and 24 points, respectively.

While these two stars stepped up, there was limited production from the rest of the team. This time around, especially with the supportive home crowd, Cal will be hoping that players such as Cowling and freshman Kianna Smith — who scored a combined 12 points on 5 of 13 shooting — will be more effective.

Arizona State junior forward Kianna Ibis was phenomenal when these teams squared off last time, scoring a game-high 26 points. Cal must make it a bigger priority to contain Ibis, who has been extremely effective for Arizona State throughout the season. If the Bears can take away this threat and force some other players to beat them, they should be in good shape.

A win Sunday would not only be important for playoff implications, but it would also provide a psychological boost, given that the Bears have yet to knock off another top-25 team.

At this point in the season, the Bears have been a team that has slowly improved and gotten better. Each time the team takes the court, it has become more obvious that Cal has been playing better together with more chemistry. With several teams ahead of the Bears in the Pac-12 standing, it is imperative that they take care of business this weekend to ensure that they stay within striking distance of the leaders. But for now, the team must remain focused on Friday’s encounter with Arizona and take each game one step at a time.

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