Cal women’s basketball heads down south to face No. 15 UCLA

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At this point in the season, attention to detail is the name of the game for the No. 6 Cal women’s basketball team. Past the halfway point in conference play, the time to try major strategic overhauls has passed.

“At this point of the season, you are not just creating a whole new masterpiece,” center Talia Caldwell said. “It’s the details, getting it really tight.”

When Cal (21-2, 11-1 in the Pac-12) travels to No. 15 UCLA on Friday night, the team will be looking to play a perfect game, devoid of unforced mistakes and defensive breakdowns. The Bears will need such a game if they hope to challenge the streaking Bruins (19-4, 10-2), winners of six straight and hungry for revenge.

Last time the two teams met on Jan. 20, Cal emerged victorious in a back-and-forth battle. While the Bears led for most of the contest, the squad blew double-digit leads twice after two impressive scoring runs by the Bruins. Cal only escaped 70-65 thanks to its own mini-run headed by the play of guard Layshia Clarendon.

“We were in attack mode, pushing the ball in transition,” said Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “But UCLA kept coming at us, using a zone and hitting some timely shots. We were fortunate to go on a run late.”

Cal has not forgotten the Bruins’ resilience and has prepared for another wire-to-wire contest at Pauley Pavilion. UCLA matches up with the Bears in almost every aspect of the game, featuring a balanced scoring attack stemming from a roster loaded with talent.

UCLA, like Cal, uses its superior athletic gifts to simply overpower opponents. Composed of many highly recruited players, the Bruins not only have the athleticism to match the Bears — they can cause issues for the Bears all over the court.

“They are versatile with big kids across the board,” Gottlieb said. “They have great guard play, they have great inside play, so we can’t let them bully us in the paint.”

Cal leads the Pac-12 with a plus-11.6 rebounding differential, but UCLA is not far behind at plus-8.7.

The Bruins and Bears also have the most balanced offenses in the conference. As opposed being determined by one clear-cut star, the success of both teams depends on their ability to share the ball and get as many people involved in the offense as possible.

“They are a complete team, and if we relax for a second, they will put points on the board,” Gottlieb said.

Led by forward Alyssia Brewer’s 11.6 points per game, UCLA fields three players averaging double figures and three others averaging at least eight points per game. Similarly, Cal has five players above eight points per game, with Layshia Clarendon on top with 15.2 points per game.

When playing a team just like themselves, the Bears will need to play one of their best games of the season.

“In analyzing film, we saw a lot of the little detail plays, whether it was a box-out or a defensive assignment,” Caldwell said. “We did it, but we need to do it better. When you are playing talented people, its not enough to just do it — it needs to be perfect.”

Austin Crochetiere covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]