Women’s basketball season shootaround

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Who’s going to make the biggest impact from Cal’s recruiting class?

Harshil Desai: I’m not saying McKenzie Forbes is the next Diana Taurasi, but I’m not saying she’s not. Forbes has one of the sweetest strokes in the 2018 class and is sure to be an exciting scorer for the Bears this season. A five-star recruit out of Folsom, California, Forbes will have high expectations going into her first year, but after winning the McDonald’s All-American 3-point shootout, there’s little doubt that the young gunner is going to rise to the challenge.

Can Sariöz: After seeing last year’s five-star recruit Kianna Smith’s contribution to the team, the expectation will be high for fellow five-star recruit McKenzie Forbes. Forbes brings much-needed help behind the arc with her smooth stroke. She definitely brings excitement in this two-player freshman class, but I expect a very important help coming from graduate transfer Receé Caldwell. Another great shooter added to the Cal roster, Caldwell might come out shining as the better court facilitator in the team, and her experience will help the team in its pursuit of a deep run. Because of Forbes’ ability to play multiple positions and the possible future returns, Forbes seems to be ahead in this shallow recruiting class.

Tim Sun: While McKenzie Forbes looks like the future of the team, graduate transfer Receé Caldwell will make an immediate impact. She posted double-digit scoring averages in each of the past two seasons at Texas Tech and will provide valuable experience to complement Forbes’ youth in the backcourt.

Which returning student-athlete do you expect to make the biggest leap this year?

HD: After leading the team in 3-point percentage last season, junior Jaelyn Brown is going to be exciting to watch this season. Brown ended her season strong last year, as she really caught fire from deep during some crucial Pac-12 play. With her jumper seeming to improve every season, expect big things from the talented Bear this year.

CS: My candidate for the biggest leap this year is redshirt sophomore guard Mi’Cole Cayton. Cayton’s true sophomore campaign ended before it started with her season-ending torn ACL in Cal’s season opener. In the small sample, she looked good and ready to take on more responsibility, picking up where she left off at the end of her freshman year. She has the potential to be special in defense as well when she’s at 100 percent. After a long rehab period, she shines as the most risk-reward player in the roster.

TS: After a solid freshman season, Kianna Smith is ready to take her game to the next level. Last season, she bounced back from seven straight single-digit scoring outings with 12- and 20-point games to end the season. Now with a full season and summer under her belt, Smith is set for a breakout season.

What is the Bears’ ceiling for 2018-19?

HD: We want UConn. But more realistically, a nice run in the NCAA Tournament is definitely not out of the question. With the talented seniors Kristine Anigwe and Asha Thomas hoping to finish their Cal careers on high notes, the Bears will be real threats in the tournament. The question is, will their depth at the five be enough to get through the best in the nation?

CS: This team will definitely have the capacity to determine what its end will be. Of course, health will be a big factor determining the Bears’ ceiling over the season; however, a deep run in the NCAA Tournament is definitely within reach. If the roster can perfect a fast, small ball-playing style, the offense can make a lot of headlights with the leadership of Kristine Anigwe and all the backcourt weapons. I don’t want to jinx anything, but my prediction will be Cal being added to the Pac-12 mix in the Sweet 16 with a slight chance of a cross-country flight to Tampa, Florida. Don’t book the tickets yet, but definitely mark the dates on the calendars, just in case…

TS: The Bears have the potential to be a true Cinderella story. With Anigwe anchoring the paint and solid guards in every class posing threats to opposing defenses, it isn’t hard to envision a midseeded Cal team pulling off a few upsets in March.

Guard rotation perfect or too crowded?

HD: The Bears are primed to play fast this year. With senior point guard Asha Thomas leading the show, Cal is going to make its name with their perimeter play. But don’t let the abundance of guards fool you, because what the Bears lack in quantity they make up for in quality. Senior Kristine Anigwe is an absolute stud at the five.

CS: Every time I’ve talked to Lindsey Gottlieb, she mentions that she sees it as she has the pieces necessary rather than anything extra. And I think Gottlieb has already done enough to make us trust her judgment in that. From now on, it will be up to her how to incorporate four guards, each of whom have multiple collegiate starts under their belts. Minute distribution will be important, as well as the style of play on the court. There is time, however, as the time to peak is four months ahead.

TS: The rotation is a bit crowded, but with the graduations of two starting frontcourt players, the Bears could go small and play three guards at a time for long stretches of the game. So while it’s unlikely all the guards will see the playing time they deserve, Cal will always have elite guards on the floor running the show.

What is Cal’s biggest weakness that might end the team’s season earlier than it should?

HD: Without a doubt, it has to be Cal’s five spot. Head coach Lindsay Gottlieb will be leaning heavily on Anigwe throughout the season, and fatigue could be a real problem for the Bears late in the season. With that being said, Anigwe is a supremely talented senior, and giving her more minutes to feast on her opponents won’t necessarily be a bad thing.

CS: Frontcourt, point. Kristine Anigwe is without a doubt one of the most important impact players in the frontcourt in college, however, the lack of that in the position is concerning. Cal lost Penina Davidson this offseason, therefore junior C.J. West will have to take on more responsibility. Fans would remember the early NCAA Tournament exit last season with the absence of Anigwe, and in a similar condition this year, Davidson will be missing. Cal will probably have four outside players with Anigwe on the court, both creating space for Anigwe on the post and making it easier to punish any double-team attempt to Anigwe down low with a 3-pointer. Extra caution, however, will be required if that’s the case to protect Anigwe from foul trouble, since she already averaged more than three fouls a game in Pac-12 play last season.

TS: The frontcourt will be an area of concern going into the postseason. Matchups will become critical in these situations, and if a team has two strong frontcourt players, the Bears might be in trouble. Anigwe can’t guard two players, so Cal will have to defend and rebound as a team.

Harshil Desai, Can Sariöz and Tim Sun are the 2018 women’s basketball beat writers.

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