Cal women’s basketball hopes to improve conference record with win at USC

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For Cal women’s basketball, the past few games have served as a reminder of the level of difficulty inherent in every conference matchup this season. The Bears currently hold an underwhelming 1-5 record in conference play, with their lone win coming against last-place Colorado. When it heads to Los Angeles to square off against USC on Sunday, two days after its road matchup against UCLA, Cal will be looking to affirm its position as an upper-tier team in the Pac-12.

Like the Bears, the Trojans currently sit in the lower half of the Pac-12 standings, going 2-4 in their first six Pac-12 games. After dominating the nonconference portion of their schedule, going a perfect 12-0, USC has struggled to maintain its success into its conference matchups. Also like the Bears, the Trojans have beaten a ranked opponent in UCLA and have shown the promise to compete with upper-echelon teams — just not on a consistent basis.

To succeed against USC, Cal will need its leading scorer, freshman forward Kristine Anigwe, to establish her offensive rhythm early in the game. This means that Anigwe will need her teammates to throw crisp entry passes to her once she has established a comfortable position in the high post. Anigwe’s arsenal of back-to-the-basket moves and her patience in reading the opposing defense when backing down a defender are seldom seen in a freshman. Her ability to play so adeptly on the inside is the reason that she’s currently the most efficient player in the conference, according to field-goal percentage, and the focal point of her team’s offense.

The Bears’ reliance on Anigwe offensively, however, has become apparent and opposing defenses have started to send multiple defenders at Anigwe on a consistent basis in order to limit her impact. Thus, Cal will need its other starters to take advantage of four-on-three situations and score when Anigwe is met with a double-team. Specifically, the Bears should look to junior forward Courtney Range — the lone veteran on the team playing major minutes — to lead the team in stretches when Anigwe’s scoring opportunities may be limited. Range’s combination of size, shooting ability and experience make her a potent scoring threat and a capable option to helm the offense.

For the Trojans, the scoring load has been more evenly distributed across the roster. Forward Temi Fagbenle leads the team in scoring at 14.1 points per game, and standing at 6 feet 4 inches, she has the necessary length required to match up with and bother Anigwe on the defensive end.

Following just behind, guard Jordan Adams and forward Kristen Smith are averaging 12.8 and 12.6 points per game, respectively. USC has four more players on its roster averaging more than seven points per game, supporting the notion that the team doesn’t rely on a single player to generate points. This gives the Trojans an edge over Cal because they don’t have to worry about increased defensive attention on a particular player.

The youth and inexperience that characterize the Bears have begun to impede them in their recent slate of conference matchups. That inexperience, however, will dissipate as the season progresses. A win against USC, whose season has progressed in a way similar to that of Cal’s, could revive the Bears’ aspirations of standing out in the Pac-12.

Kapil Kashyap covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]