Center Kristine Anigwe is averaging 18.5 points and 9.7 rebounds per game — and she’s only six games into a season that will likely comprise more than five times that many contests. Those stats have been compiled against teams that contain no player even close to Anigwe’s skill level — but that’s all about to change this coming Sunday when Cal women’s basketball (6-0) plays Nebraska (3-3).
To combat Anigwe, the Huskers have another one of the top players in the country in sophomore Jessica Shepard, who was recently named to the Naismith Trophy Women’s College Player of the Year Preseason Watch List. This was in part because of the fact that she is averaging 17.8 points and 9.8 assists in the season so far, along with two double-doubles.
But if Shepard is Nebraska’s Anigwe, the rest of the team lacks any players who can even compare to the remainder of the Bears’ squad. With contributing players like Asha Thomas, Courtney Range and Mikayla Cowling, Cal far outnumbers the Huskers when it comes to offensive weapons. With Anigwe, Range, Cowling and Thomas all averaging over 10 points per game and contributing a huge percentage of the Bears’ average 77.5 points per game, they are poised to obliterate Nebraska’s 58.3 points per game.
After Shepard, none of the Huskers’ top three scorers have averaged double-digits. If the Bears want a game plan that will lead to another easy win and bolster their already-undefeated season, it’s pretty simple: shut down Shepard. And in order to do this, Anigwe needs to play defensively and rebound harder than she has so far this season. While in past games it was a given that she was the best player down low, she’s going to have to prove it in this matchup.
Shepard’s game is also versatile: she has gone .500 from beyond the arc, hitting nine of her 18 total three-point attempts. Anigwe and the other Cal defenders will have to be hyper-aware of Shepard’s ability to attack from multiple areas if they want to shut her down.
And while the Bears’ defense will be working hard in the backcourt, their offense will have to continue to produce the same numbers as in the first six games. Since Anigwe could have trouble putting up her usual numbers down low, Cal will have to rely on Cowling, Thomas and Range, along with the Bears’ deep bench, to put up a large portion of their scoring.
Thomas, with an outrageous .609 three-point shooting percentage, has been the chief leader behind an offense that boasts the 13th highest three-point shooting percentage in the country. And to put that in perspective, Nebraska isn’t on the list of the top 50 numbers. If Cal can put up even close to as many threes as they have in the past, they should breeze by a Huskers’ team that appears to be floundering offensively.
What it comes down to is that the Bears regularly use a seven- or eight-man rotation filled with players who can all contribute on both ends of the court — and Nebraska, conversely, relies almost exclusively on Shepard to produce their results. So even if Anigwe gets taken to the cleaners, Cal has a buffer that will more than handle what Nebraska has to offer.
Sophie Goethals covers women’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected]