The No. 19 Cal women’s basketball team has gotten off to a steady start in conference play this season, and with two big matchups against USC and UCLA looming, the squad has a chance to truly assert itself as a Pac-12 powerhouse.
On Friday evening, the Trojans travel to Berkeley for a 6:00 p.m. tip-off against the Bears at Haas Pavilion. A win for either side will establish sole possession of second place in the Pac-12 standings, as Cal (13-4, 5-1 Pac-12) currently sits just behind USC (13-6, 6-1) in third place, by virtue of having played one less game.
The Bears have won three straight matchups against the Trojans, dating back to the 2012-2013 season. Cal enters this game against USC on somewhat of a low however, having split games against Arizona State and Arizona last weekend.
The setback at Arizona State broke a five-game winning streak for Cal and marked the Bears’ first loss in conference play. Cal was able to bounce back three days later with a win over Pac-12 bottom-dwellers Arizona, and the Bears continue to ride the outstanding play of juniors Brittany Boyd and Reshanda Gray.
Boyd is averaging 12.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 3.3 steals per game, and Gray is posting an average of 16.5 points and 7.2 rebounds per contest. The duo has been virtually unstoppable all season, as Boyd’s aggressive style from the point guard position and Gray’s dominant inside presence have consistently posed matchup problems for opposing defenses.
While Cal was in Arizona over the weekend, USC was at home in Los Angeles enjoying a pair of blowout victories over Oregon and Oregon State. The Trojans won the two contests by a combined 45 points. Cassie Harberts put up more than 20 points in each of the two games, and the 6-foot-2 senior forward should provide a tough matchup for Cal’s Gray.
Harberts is supported in the backcourt by Ariya Cook, who is currently averaging 14.9 points per game. A much-improved USC team has already surpassed its total win output from last season, and a win over the Bears will see them match their seven Pac-12 wins from last year.
After taking on USC on Friday, Cal will face another test on Sunday against UCLA. Tip-off against the Bruins (10-9, 4-3) will be at 6:00 p.m. at Haas Pavilion. UCLA, like USC, also picked up wins against both of the Oregon schools over this past weekend. The unranked Bruins dispatched Oregon 88-83, and followed that with a 66-63 win two days later against Oregon State.
Cal will be on the lookout for UCLA’s leading scorers Atonye Nyingifa, Thea Lemberger, and Nirra Fields. The dynamic trio put up a 78-point collective effort against Oregon, and followed that with another 48 points against Oregon State. The Bruins currently sit in sixth place in the conference standings, and will be looking to leapfrog their way into the upper echelon of the Pac-12 with a victory over the Bears on Sunday.
Josh Netter covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].