The Cal women’s basketball team (15-5, 3-5) will face its biggest test of the season this weekend when it travels to Washington to play No. 7 Washington (19-2, 7-1) and Washington State (8-11, 3-5).
The Huskies are the highest-ranked team the Bears will presumably face all season, so a win over them would do wonders for Cal’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament. The Bears only have one signature win on their resume, beating the then-No. 20 Oklahoma back on Dec. 20. Cal likely needs at least another win against a ranked opponent to impress the NCAA Selection Committee, especially after faltering during conference play.
To beat Washington, Cal will have to be at the top of its game. The Huskies feature the nation’s leading scorer and leading rebounder, senior guard Kelsey Plum. She is averaging 31 points per game this season and is the only player in Pac-12 history, regardless of gender, to have scored at least 3,000 career points. Plum’s historic offensive output has her on pace to break the NCAA scoring career record set by Jackie Stiles, as she remains 324 points away.
Senior forward Chantel Osahor is also averaging 14.7 rebounds per game and set a Pac-12 record her last time out, grabbing 30 rebounds in the Huskies’ win over the Cougars. And as if that wasn’t impressive enough, Osahor also leads the nation with 17 double-doubles in the season.
With the kind of production that Plum and Osahor provide, it should come as no surprise that opponents have found it tough to beat the Huskies. Plum leads a potent Washington offense that averages 87.3 points per game at a 48 percent field goal percentage, both of which lead the conference. The Huskies are undefeated at home this season and have gone 7-1 in conference play, losing only to Oregon State, who they share first place in the conference with.
While the Huskies have Plum and Osahor, the Bears have Kristine Anigwe, the nation’s only player to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. Still, a problem the Bears have faced this season has been a lack of production when opponents have an effective game plan for Anigwe. Someone besides Anigwe will need to step up as Cal nears the final stretch. Sophomore guard Asha Thomas could be that spark plug, scoring in double figures in three consecutive games, including a career-high 24 points her last time out.
“It’s tremendous what (Thomas) is doing,” said Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “Being more of a steady presence for us, who can handle criticism or coaching, being able to handle the ups and downs of life and basketball and doing it with a really steady hand.”
In comparison with the Huskies, injury-riddled Washington State should be a much easier matchup for the Bears. Despite a so-so record, the Cougars do have a win over then-No. 9 UCLA back on Jan. 6, and have the same Pac-12 record as the Bears at 3-5.
Should the Bears lose to Washington, a win over Washington State would still salvage the road trip up north. But with two losses, it might be too late in the season for Cal to make up for its disappointing conference play.