After playing its first two games of the season on the road, the Cal women’s basketball team will get the opportunity to showcase its unique brand of basketball to its fans at home this Friday.
For their first home game of the regular season, the No. 21 Bears (2-0) will be competing against UC Riverside (2-0) in the recently renovated Haas Pavilion. Despite entering the season unranked, Cal has been impressive in its first two games, dispatching then-No. 8 Louisville on the road in its last game. Another convincing win against the Highlanders can help legitimize the Bears’ case for being regarded as an elite team.
UC Riverside, a team projected to finish second in the relatively unimpressive Big West Conference, will benefit from the experience on its roster when it matches up against Cal, whose roster features just two upperclassmen. The Highlanders have three returning starters this season, most notably senior guard Brittany Crain, who was the eighth-leading scorer in the NCAA last year.
As a team that spent the past few seasons rebuilding, UC Riverside also finally has some continuity from last year’s iteration of the team. Most projections suggest that UC Riverside will improve drastically, which is reflected by the Highlanders’ jump in preseason conference rankings from eighth last year to second this year.
The benefits of that continuity have been tangible: The Highlanders have looked comfortable on the floor and fluid offensively in their first two wins.
The Bears, on the other hand, will continue to rely on contributions from their newest additions. Kristine Anigwe, a 6-foot-4-inch freshman who started for Cal the past two games, has been a huge reason why the Bears are defying expectations. She’s already contributing to the team in a major way, averaging 15 points and eight rebounds in her first two contests and earning Freshman of the Week Pac-12 honors.
But the team’s undeniable leader has been junior Courtney Range, who’s leading Cal in scoring at 21 points per game and tied for the lead in rebounds with nine per game. Range’s efforts were rewarded this week in the form of a Pac-12 Player of the Week title.
“Courtney’s leadership has been unbelievable in these practices coming up,” said head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “And that gives someone like Kristine the ability just to play and be the talent that she is.”
Cal’s size in this matchup should give it a significant edge versus UC Riverside. Against Louisville, the Bears outrebounded the Cardinals 50-27, a direct product of their size. Cal has a clear size advantage against the Highlanders, with four of their five starters taller than UC Riverside’s tallest starter 6-foot-1-inch Rejane Verin. The Bears are expected to dominate the paint area both offensively and defensively.
“I think you saw what we want Cal basketball to be, which is sharing the ball, the 20 assists, multiple people scoring and our length on defense,” Gottlieb said.
Before entering conference play, the Bears will need to tighten up their defensive schemes. To be competitive against the likes of No.15 Stanford, Cal should plan to communicate better on defense, and keep up its level of ball movement as well. The Bears are placed precariously in the top 25, primarily on the basis of handily beating a top-10 team, and will need to excel to remain in the standings.
Kapil Kashyap covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]