Winners of six straight, No. 18 Cal women’s basketball hosts Washington State

Patrick Chong/Staff

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The Pac-12 championship might be out of reach, but the Bears are still gunning for wins as they seek to solidify their positioning for the postseason.

The No. 18 Cal women’s basketball team (20-7, 12-4 Pac-12) will take on Washington State (15-13, 9-7) at Haas Pavilion on Thursday at 6 p.m., and a win will keep the Bears in second place in the conference standings. A victory will also ensure no worse than a No. 3 seed for Cal in the upcoming Pac-12 Tournament, when the Bears will seek to make the case for a top seed in the NCAA tournament.

When these two teams met earlier in the season, Cal emerged with an 87-70 victory. Cal’s Reshanda Gray scored 24 points in the win, and Brittany Boyd added 23. This time, Cal is riding a six-game winning streak into the game and is bursting with confidence.

“I think we’ve definitely taken positive steps forward since the Stanford games,” Boyd said. “We really grew up a lot from that experience.”

The Bears bounced up from No. 23 to No. 18 in the national polls since the two losses to Stanford, and they climbed from fourth to second in the Pac-12.

Though the Bears won last time against the Cougars, they committed 15 turnovers and allowed Washington State’s guards to run rampant. Cougars’ junior point guard Tia Presley was particularly impressive, as she put up 20 points to go along with three assists and two steals. Presley is averaging a team-best 19.4 points per game on .454 shooting, and fellow guard Lia Galdeira sits right behind her with 18 points per contest for Washington State.

“We’re watching a bunch of film from the last time we played them and figuring out how we can beat their crazy zone,” Boyd said of her team’s preparation for Washington State. “We need to cut down our turnovers and make sure we don’t miss any opportunities.”

For Cal, winning the battle in the paint will be key. Gray has been in impeccable form for the Bears as of late, and she will be expected to maintain a high level against the Cougars. Gray put up 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in Cal’s win over USC on Sunday, and her six straight double-doubles have coincided with the Bears’ current winning streak. Redshirt senior Gennifer Brandon is also proving to be a dominant presence down low for Cal. The forward moved to No. 7 on the Pac-12’s all-time rebounding list after grabbing six boards against the Trojans, and her energy off the bench provides an important spark for the Bears.

In the backcourt, Cal will continue to look to Boyd to lead the way. The junior is averaging 14.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.7 assists and three steals per game, and she currently leads the Pac-12 in both steals and assists. Boyd is currently carrying an ankle injury that has slowed her at times during the past two weeks, but her all-around play continues to be huge for the Bears. If Boyd can fight through her injury and lock down Washington State’s guards, Cal should dispatch the Cougars with ease.

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