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Cal women's basketball hosts Washington

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JANUARY 30, 2015

There has been a collection of things this season that have hurt Cal women’s basketball. Of all the team’s problems, one of the biggest struggles this year has been keeping its opponents from getting to the line, which was highlighted Jan. 11, when the Bears traveled to Seattle and spent most of their time watching Washington guard Kelsey Plum calmly knock down her free throws.

In that game, Plum, who was 11 for 12 from the line, outshot the entire Cal team, which had just 8-of-12 shooting on free throws. The Huskies (16-4, 5-3 Pac-12) finished the game shooting 24 of 30 at the charity stripe and won 79-77. On Saturday afternoon, the Bears (15-5, 6-2 Pac-12) will have a second chance to clean up their defense when they come back home to Haas Pavilion to take on Washington in an attempt to even up the regular-season series.

In the game two weeks ago, Washington did not look like the better team. It took 24 free points for the Huskies to stay in the game. In fact, despite Cal’s foul trouble from key players — most notably Reshanda Gray, who only played 28 minutes — the Bears still found ways to score and run an offense through a variety of players such as Brittany Boyd, Mikayla Cowling, Mercedes Jefflo and Penina Davidson, which is something the Bears haven’t been able to do when teams take away Gray.

Cal took care of the ball, turning it over just 10 times. The teams were tied in total rebounds. And the Bears were more effective shooting the ball, shooting 46 percent compared with the Huskies’ 42 percent.

Although Cal played better in nearly every aspect of the game, the team could not play disciplined enough defense to prevent the officials from constantly blowing their whistles. The Bears essentially started the game trailing by more than 20 points. In order for a team to overcome that many points, it has to be nearly perfect. And without Gray, Cal’s most effective player, playing her usual minutes, perfect is nearly impossible to achieve.

For the Bears, the easiest and simplest way to find success is to start with Gray. Even with just 28 minutes of play against Washington, the senior forward was by far the best player on the court, recording 19 points and 14 rebounds. The only way the Huskies could somewhat play defense against Gray was to foul. Of the Bears’ 12 free-throw attempts, Gray shot nine of them.

Once Gray gets hot, Cal looks like an entirely different team on offense. All of a sudden, teams are planning defenses to zero in on one player. Double-teaming or bringing all your players closer to the post isn’t preferable. It especially isn’t preferable, because Gray has gotten significantly better at kicking the ball out to perimeter shooters.

A lot of whether the Bears play well or not depends on cause and effect. When they score a basket, it directly causes the defense to be strengthened. When teams are forced to dribble up court against Cal’s press defense and then try to run a drawn-up play rather than playing in transition, the pressure to execute is on the opponent.

Cal must protect Gray from foul trouble. The Bears only have 10 players and need to use as much of their star forward as they can. If she stays out of foul trouble, Saturday should be significantly different than the last time these two saw each other. The Bears need to lock up on the perimeter and keep Washington out of the paint so Gray will not have to put herself at risk trying to protect the basket. Once this happens, Gray can take over and lead the Bears to a satisfying revenge over the Huskies.

Richard Lee covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].

JANUARY 30, 2015

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