Due to a steep drop-off in talent, few were surprised when the Cal women’s basketball team failed to reproduce another Final Four run last season or capture its second consecutive Pac-12 title. While Reshanda Gray and Brittany Boyd contributed to the best of their abilities, the Bears lacked sufficient depth to stay competitive against the upper echelon of teams. But now that the role players surrounding Cal’s dynamic duo have another year of experience, the Bears return more lethal than ever.
Boasting a starting lineup of four returning starters featuring two All-Americans in point guard Boyd and forward Gray, Cal was tapped as a consensus top-15 team by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association. Complemented by the emergence of multiple role players such as forwards Justine Hartman and Courtney Range, the Bears will most likely boast more offensive flare and defensive intensity than during last season.
While it is significant and ultimately necessary that multiple players contribute to the offensive in championship teams, whether or not the Bears make a deep tournament run will be largely up to head coach Lindsay Gottlieb’s starting point guard, Boyd. The standout guard averaged 14.7 points and almost six assists — the first mark was good enough for top 15 in the Pac-12, while the second mark led the entire conference by a healthy margin.
Boyd’s contributions on the offensive end don’t stop at just points and assists, as she also led the fast break as the team’s point guard. Despite coaching a seventh-ranked offense scoring 69.8 points per game, Gottlieb got her team to run whenever possible. Most of these opportunities in transition came off of Boyd’s gambles in the passing lane. The Cal guard picked the ball 2.87 times per game, good enough for tops in the conference. A quadruple threat from anywhere on the floor, Boyd boasts the ability to alter the game as a more-than-capable distributor and as the team’s best perimeter defender.
Finishing Cal’s one-two punch for Boyd is forward Gray, who proved to be impossible to defend in single coverage last season. Responsible for 16.8 points on .591 percent shooting, she led the team in scoring, as well as rebounds per game. Preferring to score from the post, Gray was the Bears’ most efficient scorer by far, while also pitching in 8.8 rebounds per game. When Gottlieb’s squad wasn’t pushing the ball in transition, its game plan revolved around trying to punish the other team down low through Gray’s post-ups.
Although Gray shot a very high percentage from the field, Cal as a team, however, failed to do so. With a half-court offense predicated around Boyd’s drives to the basket and Gray’s post-ups, Cal was seventh in the Pac-12 in field-goal percentage at .398 percent. Worse yet, the Bears were only able to shoot .275 percent from three-point range — dead last in the conference.
Poor shooting from essentially all over the floor ended up as a major problem for Cal as the season continued. Even though Gray and Boyd carried the Bears on their backs through the first 12 games of the season en route to a 9-3 record, shooting persisted as the driving force in the majority of Cal’s losses. If the Bears are to have any shot at reclaiming the Pac-12 title, they can’t leave multiple points per game at the free-throw line, as evidenced by their .665 shooting percentage from the charity stripe.
Despite the loss of All-Pac-12 selection Gennifer Brandon, Cal is projected to bounce back in a major way. Boyd and Gray displayed effective on-court chemistry, and there’s no reason for that not to continue come the start of the upcoming season.
While lack of shooting and a secondary ball handler behind Boyd was the biggest issue, the Bears will most likely be one of the top teams in the Pac-12 as long as they play to their strengths. With the front court of Hartman and Gray taking up space inside while Boyd and the other wings wreak havoc on the perimeter trapping the ball, Cal should continue to get easy transition buckets playing stingy defense. Come the NCAA tournament in March, the Bears should be in the mix to make another deep run.
Winston Cho covers volleyball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @winstonscho