After a pair of losses on the road against then No. 20 UCLA and USC, Cal women’s basketball (10-9) is now 1-7 against Pac-12 opponents — the second-worst record in the conference — and on a five-game losing streak. If the Bears hope to dig themselves out of the hole they’re in and rise up in the standings, they’ll need to start by taking care of Washington State (12-7), when the Cougars come to town Friday.
Like Cal, Washington State currently resides in the bottom half of the Pac-12, sitting tied for seventh in the standings with a conference record of 3-5. Both teams also posted identical 9-2 records in nonconference play. The Cougars were projected to perform roughly at the level they’ve played at thus far, so their struggles aren’t a surprise. Going into Pac-12 play, however, the Bears were regarded as a team capable of finishing in the top-four of the standings. But, that’s now a pipe dream as they’re looking to salvage their season, and the best result they can hope for is to finish near the middle of the pack.
There are some similarities in the way both Cal and Washington State have been constructed. Neither team has a balanced scoring load among its players; instead, both teams rely considerably on their star freshmen to take on scoring duties and generate instant offense. For Washington State, that star freshman is Borislava Hristova, a 6-foot forward from Bulgaria who leads her team in both scoring and shooting percentage. Forward Kristine Anigwe is Cal’s prized freshman phenom, posting per-game averages of 20.4 points and 9.3 rebounds on 57.8 percent shooting.
Relying on a freshman so heavily is a flaw in the design of both teams. The problem with having a single player be the focal point of the team’s offense is that it can be exploited by opposing teams. The Bears have experienced this first-hand in their past several games, as opponents have taken notice of Anigwe’s dominance and are meeting her with increased defensive attention in the form of multiple defenders.
As a result, Anigwe has scored less than 20 points in each of her last four games. Both teams will likely employ a similar strategy on each other, to limit the impact of their respective leading scorers. To gain an edge in the matchup, Cal will need to adjust its gameplan and look to get other players involved in scoring, namely junior Courtney Range and sophomore Mikayla Cowling.
For the Bears, the silver lining to their recent struggles is that most of their losses have come on the road, with a record of 0-6 in Pac-12 road games. Cal is 7-2 (1-1 in Pac-12) in Haas Pavilion, with the only blemishes being losses against Saint Mary’s and Utah, and the Bears will have the benefit of playing five of their next six games at home. A victory against Washington State to start off Cal’s home stretch is the first step toward climbing up the Pac-12 standings.
Kapil Kashyap covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]