Cal women’s basketball hosts season opener against Houston Cougars

Lorenzo Dela Cruz/Staff

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After an offseason filled with contemplation, introspection and desire to break through to that next level — game time is finally here, and the Bears have a chance to make a statement.

Cal women’s basketball will be hosting the Houston Cougars in the first game of its 2018-19 season today at Haas Pavilion. The Bears will be facing a quality opponent, with Houston returning all five of its starters this season.

The Cougars finished last season with a fifth-place finish in the American Athletic Conference, in which UConn routinely dominates its competition. With strong continuity heading into this season and more than 90 percent of its previous season’s scoring, Houston is a virtual lock to improve on its record.

While the Cougars’ greatest strength will be the stability from their five returners, the Bears will be playing a new brand of Cal basketball this season. Building new chemistry will be one of the Bears’ most important priorities this season, trying to incorporate two of their talented recruits — graduate transfer Receé Caldwell and freshman McKenzie Forbes — into a guard-heavy rotation.

The two newcomers will be crucial pieces for the Bears moving forward, and after a strong showing versus Westmont College in Cal’s first preseason exhibition, both players look extremely promising.

Caldwell filled up the stat sheet, dropping six dimes and knocking down a triple behind only one turnover. On the pure scoring side of the spectrum, Forbes showed her shooting prowess, hitting both her threes and providing some efficient points on three of five shooting.

But, behind these newcomers, Cal has a very talented foundation to work with. Senior Kristine Anigwe is the Bears’ most talented scorer, and she’ll see little resistance from the Cougars’ front line. Last season, Houston only had one starter above 6 feet, with senior forward Myyah West giving up a good 2 inches to 6’4” Anigwe. After a 25-point explosion against Westmont, Anigwe will be a player to watch this game.

But while Houston lacks size at the forward position, its guard-heavy offense will be a potent threat for the Bears. Juniors Jasmyne Harris and Angela Harris and senior Serithia Hawkins make up a very explosive guard rotation, accounting for most of the Cougars offense.

To counter this, Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb has set up the roster to fight fire with fire, fielding a possible starting lineup of four perimeter players alongside Anigwe. Last week against Westmont, this strategy resulted in a high-octane offense to the tune of 79 points.

While Houston will be a clear step up defensively, Gottlieb will still be able to run a very deadly starting lineup to challenge the Cougars.

Jaelyn Brown will be especially valuable this game, as the guard/forward will be able to slot up a position or two in Cal’s versatile offense. If Brown can consistently hit her three-point shot, the possibilities will be endless for the Bears as the coaching staff works to solidify their lineups this season.

Cal will be an exciting team to watch this season, and with new faces looking to prove themselves and old faces reminding us who they are, the Cougars better bring their absolute best to Haas Pavilion.

Harshil Desai writes for Bear Bytes, the Daily Californian’s sports blog. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @harshdailycal.