Everything is going right for the Cal women’s basketball team so far. The Bears are undefeated at 7-0. Seniors Brittany Boyd and Reshanda Gray are each making cases that they’re the best players in the country at their position, guard and forward, respectively. This weekend, the team will look to continue asserting itself on the hardwood when they travel to Kansas to take on the Jayhawks (5-2) on Sunday.
Although the Bears haven’t played the toughest schedule, fans can see what this team excels in and the game plan it tries to implement. From the small sample size so far, Cal has the unique luxury of having two identities.
One is to simply let Gray dominate in the post, a strategy no team has been able to defend itself against yet. Averaging 22.6 points on over 70 percent shooting so far this season, the 6-foot-3 star has been unguardable as the focal point of the Bears’ offense.
Despite Gray’s efficiency on half-court offense, Cal’s first option is to prioritize another aspect of the game that extends beyond the offensive end.
“We want to be a fast team,” Gray said. “So anytime we can get out and run, that’s kind of our style of play.”
Against Kansas on Sunday, the Bears will look to revolve their game plan around controlling the tempo. By forcing a transition-heavy contest, Cal can outrun its opponents and use its athletic and well-conditioned personnel to tire its opponents out.
“Our players are capable of running up and down fast all the time,” said Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “And anytime we get a defensive rebound, we want to push.”
On Sunday, the key matchup of the game will probably be between the two teams’ front courts. The best player for Kansas this season has been senior forward Chelsea Gardner, who has averaged 19.3 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. Standing at 6-foot-3, there’s a possibility the Jayhawks might use Gardner’s size and defensive ability as an answer to Gray.
In addition, if Kansas can build its offense around Gardner and create high-percentage shots, that can potentially prevent Cal from playing fast. After a shot is made, the ball has to be inbounded instead of rebounded for an outlet pass. When a team can do that against a team like the Bears, it makes starting fast-break opportunities much harder for Cal.
“We need to try to generate that pace on offense all the time,” Gottlieb said. “And then just lock up a little more on defense.”
Gardner seems like somebody who can cause lots of problems for the Bears, but Gray is not a liability on defense. She’s averaged 1.5 blocks and 1.0 steals per game and has generated many of the Bears’ transition plays this season.
But there’s a chance Gottlieb will look to the bench to buy some minutes and preserve Gray’s effectiveness for the offense, where she’s most dangerous.
“I thought (Brittany) Shine and Penina (Davidson) became really crucial (against Sacramento State),” Gottlieb said. “Other games, it might be Justine (Hartman). Kansas is bigger, and we’re going to need that post presence. We want to be where we can go deep at times and have no dropoff.”
Richard Lee covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].