Cal gets final regular season opportunity to topple top-25 talent

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During a women’s basketball game at Maples or Haas pavilions, fans can probably switch seats without anyone really noticing. In venues that don’t typically get past half-full, fans have a little wiggle room.

No. 14 Stanford’s roster has wiggle room of its own — it can switch things up, move players in and out — all without compromising its chances of winning on any given night. This week, the well-rounded Cardinal are hoping to pin the Bears in a corner and unleash on their rivals.

Cal is set to face Stanford, first on the road Thursday, and then again at home Saturday. The Bears haven’t taken down a ranked opponent all year (0-8), and to say they could do it twice in a row sounds pretty ludicrous.

The feat seems even more insurmountable when taking into consideration that Stanford is on a six-game win streak and has not lost to an unranked team in all of conference play.

Like every team, the Cardinal have their go-to players — but unlike No. 9 Oregon or No. 15 OSU, who own the top spots on nearly every Pac-12 leaderboard — their true shine lies in their complete roster.

On a squad that features seven players averaging double digits in conference minutes, only two are averaging more than 30 minutes per game. The flexibility in minutes not only shows head coach Tara VanDerveer’s trust in her team, but gives her the upper hand of being able to rest key players in good faith.

Stanford’s 30-minute club comprises senior guard Brittany McPhee and junior guard Marta Sniezek.

McPhee is lethal from the field and has averaged 48.7 percent shooting in conference play; standing at 6’0”, the guard has also pulled in an average of 5.5 boards per contest. Sniezek is also a nice shooter, but has many other shifty aspects to her game as she leads the team in assists and is second in steals.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Cardinal are lights-out, ranking first and second in the Pac-12 in 3-point defense and field goal defense, respectively. They also average 5.4 blocked shots a game, good for second in the conference.

The struggling Bears had a recent offensive reboot in their last two games against Colorado and Utah, when they had some of their best scoring performances since a rut that began in early January.

While they heated up quickly against weaker competition, the force that is Stanford’s defense is likely to blast-chill them down.

The Cardinal’s stamina and versatility are capable of wearing out the Bears’ core four of juniors Kristine Anigwe and Asha Thomas, senior Mikayla Cowling and freshman Kianna Smith. Cal does have a roster that runs deep, but it is undoubtedly a roster that has been rather patchy during conference play.

And despite their stellar performances in their last two games, the Bears’ offensive rhythm simply disappears against top-25 competition. When it comes down to it, the Cardinal are capable of doing the two things the Bears can’t — beat ranked teams and put together blowout wins.

Things look rather gloomy for Cal women’s basketball fans this week, but as they watch their players take the court, maybe they can sneak a couple rows closer to the action. (Hopefully no one notices.)

Christie Aguilar is an assistant sports editor. Contact her at [email protected].

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