No. 22 Cal women’s basketball returns home for matchup with Arizona schools

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The Bears are back home and back in the fight for Pac-12 supremacy.

The No. 22 Cal women’s basketball team rebounded from a pair of tough losses to Stanford with wins over Washington and Washington State, and the Bears now have an opportunity to climb into second place in the Pac-12 standings. On Friday evening, Cal (16-7, 8-4 Pac-12) will face unranked Arizona (5-18, 1-11) for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff at Haas Pavilion. The Bears will return to Haas two days later, on Sunday, for a 4 p.m. contest against No. 15 Arizona State (20-4, 9-3).

Playing in Washington last weekend, Cal picked up a pair of gritty victories. In a 70-65 win over Washington, forward Reshanda Gray exploded for 20 points and 12 rebounds, and point guard Brittany Boyd nearly recorded a triple-double with 14 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.

Two days later, in an 87-70 rout of Washington State, Gray and Boyd again led the charge. Gray put up 24 points and 10 rebounds, and Boyd scored 23 points to go along with eight rebounds and five assists. All-American Gennifer Brandon had perhaps her best game of the season, recording 13 points and 20 rebounds.

This weekend’s schedule pits Cal against two highly disparate opponents. Against Arizona on Friday night, the Bears will face arguably the most miserable team in the Pac-12. The Wildcats were losers of 11 straight games before their surprise 68-49 win over Arizona State on Sunday. Despite the upset, they are still widely seen as a Pac-12 bottom-dweller.

Arizona senior Carissa Crutchfield, who scored a career-high 20 points in the game against Arizona State, was pleased with her team’s effort in the win.

“We played 40 minutes together today,” Crutchfield said. “We knew we needed to play together to win, and we definitely did that.”

The Wildcats held all but one of Arizona State’s players to single figures in scoring and will need to replicate that suffocating brand of defense if they wish to stand a chance against the Bears. Cal’s dynamic inside-outside duo of Gray and Boyd is averaging a combined 31.6 points and 14.4 boards per game, and the two will be expected to lead their team to victory over unranked Arizona.

Despite its recent hiccup, Arizona State poses the tougher matchup of Cal’s two opponents this weekend. The Sun Devils boast a well-balanced offense and a staunch defense that holds opponents to just more than 65 points per game.

Senior Deja Mann, a Merced, Calif., native, is Arizona State’s only player to have started every one of her team’s games this season, and the guard is averaging 11.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists per outing. Despite Mann’s solid play and the overall cohesiveness of a unit that has maintained a consistent top-25 spot in the national polls, the Wildcats have at times struggled to contain opposing teams’ post players.

“We’ve had issues with giving up too many shots in the paint,” said ASU head coach Charli Turner Thorne after her team’s setback against Arizona. “We gave it up every which way today. We gave it up on offensive rebounds and playing soft.”

On Sunday, the Bears will look to their frontcourt partnership of Gray and Brandon to exploit the Sun Devils’ weakness in the paint. Gray has been a standout performer all season, while Brandon seems to be returning to her usual dominant self after a prolonged spell on the sidelines.

Arizona State currently sits in second place in the Pac-12 and holds a superior national ranking to Cal. However, if the Sun Devils fall to Stanford on Friday while the Bears push aside Arizona, then on Sunday, Cal will have an opportunity to leapfrog Arizona State with a win.

Josh Netter covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].