Cal takes lessons from last weekend’s loss to prepare for Sac State

On Thursday at 7 p.m., the Cal women’s basketball team will play its first regular season home game beneath the lights of Haas Pavilion. But as late as Tuesday afternoon, the Bears (0-1) weren’t looking ahead to the game against Sacramento State. Coach Lindsay Gottlieb and her players still lingered on a loss two days and 3,000 miles in the past.

Last weekend’s 73-70 season opening loss to Rutgers in New Brunswick, NJ, was mainly the product of press — or rather, Cal’s inability to handle the lethal 55-press of the Scarlet Knights. A hybrid of man-to-man and zone defenses, the 55-press broke Cal’s tentative three-point lead on the first possession of the second half and left the team shaken for a solid six minutes.

The Bears scrambled for the rest of the game to cut a series of 10-point deficits, but overwhelming pressure from their opponents led to sloppy fouls. While the team eventually rallied to within three points by the final buzzer, the damage was already done.

As a result, Cal has been working on breaking a press throughout the week in practice.

“We’re still more concerned with learning lessons from Rutgers so that we could get better,” Gottlieb said. “It was disappointing, because we felt like we had an opportunity to beat a top-20 team in the country in their own gym.”

Sac State, in comparison, is not in the top-20; the Hornets are not top anything. The team went 4-25 last year. With two straight losses to open the season, including a 117-55 whipping at the hands of No. 15 Oklahoma last weekend, it looks like the Sac State (0-2) is headed in that direction again this year.

With such competition — and in Haas Pavilion, no less — the Bears can afford the delayed mindset. The team is focused on itself and how it responds to certain situations, none of which dwell too heavily on Hornet-specific strategies.

“We haven’t really worried about what Sac State runs,” junior guard Eliza Pierre said. “Whatever Sac State’s gonna throw at us, we just have to be ready for it.”

However, there is one thing the Hornets do that makes still them a worthy opponent: press. Essentially, this week’s game is not simply a way to pick up an easy win; it’s a way for the team to redeem itself against an opponent’s press.

“You have to be more aware of little things when the opponent is going to make you pay,” Gottlieb said. “Things like meeting passes, being strong with the ball. Rutgers exposed us to things we may get away with against some teams when we’re more athletic.”

But after the confrontation with the Scarlet Knights last Sunday, the squad does not want to just skate by Sac State. Every time Cal transitions to offense on Thursday night, it wants to demolish any pressure from the Hornets.

“For us to be back and working on the press, that also helps us work on the mess-ups that we had in Rutgers and just makes us a better team overall,” Pierre said.