Exciting point guard matchup on schedule as Cal women’s basketball takes on Pacific

Lorenzo Dela Cruz/Staff

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After escaping last weekend’s smoke to complete a 2-0 road trip, the Cal women’s basketball team is coming home hot, set for its matchup against University of the Pacific (1-0) on Sunday.

The contest will feature a battle between two senior point guards both coming off incredible performances. For Pacific, Ameela Li leads the charge. Now in her second season as a starter, Li has become the engine for the Tiger offense.

In Pacific’s season opener against UC Davis, Li put up a career-high 27 points and amassed seven assists and four steals, earning her West Coast Conference Player of the Week honors. She played the entire game before fouling out with five minutes to go, after which her team was outscored 18-2.

At 5’6”, Li has the quickness to create opportunities for her teammates, as she posted 4.5 assists per game last season. Beyond the arc, she is efficient as well, converting on 35 percent of her tries from downtown last year.

Likely guarding Li will be Cal senior Asha Thomas, who enters the game after hitting the 1,000 career points milestone in her 100th game for the Bears on Tuesday.

Thomas, too, is the playmaker for Cal. She has put up five assists per game this year while averaging just 1.3 turnovers.  While logging 29 minutes or more per game, Thomas has scored in double digits in each of Cal’s three contests to complement Kristine Anigwe’s post presence.

The matchup between Li and Thomas is set to be an exciting one, as both guards can shoot threes and make plays. The two also bring high levels of experience to their respective squads, as the guards have combined to start 143 contests.

Like Cal, Pacific also sports a guard-heavy system. The Tigers start four guards, along with sophomore forward Brooklyn McDavid. Like Li, McDavid made a huge leap to start off the season. McDavid easily eclipsed her career high of 17 points with a 24-point effort against UC Davis.

Without a true center, though, the Tigers will be vulnerable in the paint, and Anigwe will be a mismatch all game. The senior center has generated 16 or more points per game this season, and against a small-ball Pacific team, she is set for another strong showing.

Cal is also particularly well-suited to matching Pacific’s array of guards. The starting backcourt three of Thomas, Receé Caldwell and Kianna Smith have logged heavy minutes for the Bears, and freshman McKenzie Forbes rounds out the guard rotation.

Each of the four guards has their own strengths, and head coach Lindsay Gottlieb will have flexibility in determining rotations and matchups to best defend against the Tigers. In the first three games of the season, Gottlieb leaned heavily on graduate transfer Caldwell, taking her out of the game for only 11 minutes so far this year.

Saturday’s contest against Pacific will be headlined by an exciting matchup at point guard, but Anigwe’s mismatch should make the difference. So while the smoke hopefully subsides this weekend, the Bears are set to continue their winning streak.

Tim Sun covers field hockey / women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].