Cal women’s basketball hopes to rise against 2 top-10 teams

Basketball player jumps in the air with ball in hand, about to score a basket as an opponent tries to block her.
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The story of David beating Goliath is a classic tale, though people rarely enjoy the situations they find themselves in when they have to make use of this metaphor. This weekend, Cal women’s basketball will have to play the role of David twice against two Goliaths.

The Bears managed to come up with a win last weekend when they faced then-No. 8 Stanford twice in three days. After a game-winning buzzer-beater by Asha Thomas, Cal sealed the home win against the Cardinal before getting blown out in Palo Alto.

This weekend, the Bears will need to be on their toes, hosting No. 3 Oregon (21-1, 10-0 Pac-12) and No. 7 Oregon State (19-3, 9-1 Pac-12). Cal (14-7, 5-5 Pac-12) will need to at least get a split to prove it is still a team to keep an eye on come March.

Even though the Bears are still getting votes for the Associated Press poll after dropping out of the top 25 four weeks ago, they will face one of the hottest teams in the nation Friday at 8 p.m. in Haas Pavilion. Oregon has not dropped a conference game this season, and their only loss came at the hands of Michigan State on the road with an 82-88 upset. Evidently, the Ducks are not invincible, but a near-perfect performance might not even be enough against them.

The Ducks average 89.6 points per game on offense and only allow 60.7 points per game. So, the Bears will need to stop Oregon on one hand and score efficiently on the other. Cal averages 40.2 rebounds per game to the Ducks’ 38.6. Led by the leading rebounder in the nation, Kristine Anigwe, who averages 15.6 rebounds, the Bears’ key for victory will be winning the battle on the glass.

The Ducks’ emphasis will definitely be on Anigwe, like every opponent Cal faces. Anigwe proved that she can produce incredible numbers despite such attention, but every one of the Bears will need to help her for an upset against the Ducks.

Oregon boasts a well-balanced roster, with all of the starters averaging in double digits, but all eyes will be on junior guard Sabrina Ionescu, who is expected to go No. 1 in the WNBA draft.

Ionescu holds the record for career triple-doubles in NCAA history and averages team highs of 18.6 points and 7.4 rebounds. She also leads the nation with 8.4 assists per game. The Bears’ guard trio of Thomas, Kianna Smith and Receé Caldwell will need to prevent Ionescu from finding her rhythm for Cal to have a clear shot at an upset.

After one of their toughest matchups this season, the Bears will have a chance to rest for one day before facing another top-10 team: Oregon State.

The Beavers have yet to lose on the road, but they will face a tough game against Stanford on Friday. Both teams will need to regroup quickly for their showdown Sunday at 1 p.m.

Oregon State is another well-rounded team, scoring 80.1 points per game and allowing only 58 points per game. The Bears will need to shoot effectively to match the offensive weapons that the Beavers have. Oregon State also grabs 43.5 rebounds per game, and they are one of the few opponents that have averaged more than Cal this season — the Beavers will fight for the boards as a team.

The Beavers have three players averaging in double digits this season, as redshirt sophomore guard Destiny Slocum leads the team with 16.2 points. Helping her is junior guard Mikayla Pivec, who averages 14.8 points of her own while also leading the team with 8.9 rebound per game.

Oregon State boasts a very effective 3-point shooting squad that averages 43 percent, but its most dangerous aspect is its defense, which keeps opponents at 27.1 percent behind the arc. Considering the Bears’ inconsistent shooting, accuracy on offense will be the deciding factor in how competitive Cal will be in both of this weekend’s games.

A split against these Oregon schools should keep the Bears on the hunt for a deep playoff run. Sweeping both teams might signal that the Bears are actually the team they looked like at the beginning of the season, while being swept would require a solid bounce-back effort as the Bears conclude their toughest stretch of the season.

Whatever the outcome and whomever Cal faces, the Bears will need to bring their best performance on the court every game from now on, but it is especially crucial against two top-10 teams this weekend.

“If we just bring our A-game, I think we can compete,” Anigwe said. “And then, competing leads us to very good things.”

Can Sariöz is an assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @can_sarioz.