Cal women’s basketball faces crucial checkmark against Trojans

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Sweep the weekend.

That’s the goal that head coach Lindsay Gottlieb has preached to the No. 21 Cal women’s basketball team (13-5, 4-3) about approaching their West Coast opposition ever since conference play began.

The bar is set that high because Gottlieb has believed that this team can win the Pac-12, which has been evident right from opening night, and weekend sweeps are representative of what it takes to enter the national conversation.

But after dropping the first matchup of their southern California trip to No. 13 UCLA, 60-52, Gottlieb’s Bears will have to fight for a split this weekend with a win over USC.

Though Cal has yet to drop a game to an unranked opponent, its matchup with USC (13-5, 3-4) is expected to be far from a stroll in the park. After coming out on the short end of a tight 59-55 loss to Stanford, the Trojans are unquestionably fired up for the Bears.

USC’s lineup is led by not one but four players who average at least 13 points per game, accentuated by senior forward Kristen Simon’s 17.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per contest.

While USC’s firepower and ability to score in bunches may have fallen just short the last time the teams met, it is an aspect of the game that Cal needs to stop for the second time this season in order to come out on top. The last time out, the Bears protected their home court and held the Trojans to just 16.7 percent shooting from long-range.

Trojan junior guard Aliyah Mazyck, one of the most dangerous three-point shooters in the conference, is a good comparison to the likes of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Mazyck has nailed multiple treys in all but three games this season, good for an astounding 58 on the season.

In the Bears’ 76-64 win over USC in the team’s conference opener, it was senior guard Mikayla Cowling who was primarily responsible for keeping Mazyck in check to the tune of just a 2-for-9 night from beyond the arc.

One strategy Cal will look to deploy is pushing the ball and forcing the Trojans to scramble defensively. Perhaps no other team in the Pac-12 lacks depth more than USC, who deployed its starting five for nearly the entire contest against the Bears.

Aside from Mazyck playing an already impressive 39 minutes, the other four starters for head co ach Mark Trakh played the entire contest, a trend that has become increasingly normal rather than an obscurity.

With all five of the Trojans’ starters averaging at least 31 minutes per game, Cal’s depth should come in handy. Sophomore guard Jaelyn Brown has become more integrated into the offensive flow of the Bears’ game plan, while forwards junior Kristine Anigwe and senior Penina Davidson continue to establish themselves as one of the more dominant front-court pairs in the conference.

Both teams come into this one undoubtedly disappointed about their previous matchup against the other’s rival. One will leave Sunday with a split of its weekend, while the other leaves with a bitter taste in its mouth.

Josh Yuen is an assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].