Cal prepares for road trip to open up second half of Pac-12

The Bears’ last two road trips are a study in opposites.

Case No. 1: The Los Angeles trip was a disaster. The Cal women’s basketball team sojourned south at the end of 2011 looking to easily top UCLA and challenge USC. But abysmal shooting plagued the Bears, and the embarrassing sweep has become an albatross for the team to dutifully bear.

Case No. 2: In a quick turnaround, the team’s most recent road trip took the squad to the Rockies to sweep Colorado and Utah. The Bears deftly handled the Buffaloes and staved off a late Utes comeback to tack two more wins between themselves and Los Angeles.

The Rockies trip was three weeks ago. Cal got a lucky break in the first half of conference play, as four of the last six wins occurred beneath the lights of Haas Pavilion.

On Thursday, that changes. The Bears take on a slumping Arizona before dueling a hot Arizona State on Saturday. The fate of both games doesn’t just determine the Bears’ record; it determines the team’s endurance on the road, a facet of play that would resurface should the team go dancing next month.

“Our last road trip to start Pac-12 didn’t go as we wanted it to,” said Cal coach Linsday Gottlieb. “The difference from the L.A. trip to the Rockies is that we’re less inclined to just settle if something’s not going well.”

Fortunately for the Bears, Arizona might not present too much of a challenge. Arizona bottoms out the Pac-12 and languishes in the midst of a four-game losing streak. A home-court advantage won’t even be much of a boost, considering the team is 1-3 in its own house.

Still, the Wildcats possess a silver lining: standout guard Davellyn Whyte, who cruises in as the No. 2 scorer in the conference with an average of 18.2 points per game.

In fact, the Bears credit any Arizona talent to its guards.

“They have guards who love to run transition,” Gottlieb said. “(Whyte) had a couple games in a row where she didn’t score as much, but that only makes me think she’s going to be ready to go even more.”

But Cal’s own guards have grown enormously in the last few weeks, most notably Layshia Clarendon and Brittany Boyd. With her average of 11.2 points per game, Clarendon has become a playmaker to pace the team. Against Stanford, Clarendon’s second-half heat single-handedly sent the tilt into overtime and launched her into the 1,000 point club. And though she still thrives on theatrics, true freshman Boyd has simultaneously matured that flash through serious drive.

To shut down Arizona early, the Bears won’t have to do anything fancy: just beating the team in transition and at the boards will stifle the opponent. And as the Bears’ most pivotal games show — whether that be a last-minute victory against Washington State or a 12-point comeback against Colorado — the team never feels like it’s out of a contest.

“We never want to stop playing,” junior center Talia Caldwell said. “We always play until the bitter end.”