Cal women’s basketball hopes to secure 1st Pac-12 road win at Arizona

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After halting a three-game skid with a home win versus USC, No. 24 Cal women’s basketball will hope to regain some of its early-season magic this Friday against the Arizona Wildcats.

Cal’s visit to Tucson will mark its first away game of conference play and its third overall. The Wildcats will be coming in after a brutal loss versus Utah and will have something to prove on their home court.

Arizona is led by redshirt sophomore Aari McDonald, who has been a flamethrower for the Wildcats this season, pouring in more than 25 points per game on 46 percent shooting. The talented guard is the second-leading scorer in the NCAA this season.

Behind McDonald, freshman Cate Reese stands as Arizona’s second-leading scorer. The young forward was a phenom in high school, pulling in an average of 31 points and 15 rebounds in her McDonald’s All-American senior season. Reese’s collegiate career has been streaky so far, though, with as many games with 15 or more points as those with single digits. The talented big will be someone to watch if she can get out of her recent cold streak.

Arizona, like Cal, has not been a three-friendly offense, with both teams shooting just under 32 percent from beyond the arc. The Wildcats only have one real shooter on their team in junior guard Lucia Alonso. If Alonso has a quiet night like she did in Utah, the Wildcats will be forced to depend heavily on McDonald for some consistent offense.

Leading the way for Cal, senior Kristine Anigwe will be the catalyst for the team once again. Averaging a gaudy 22 points and 14 rebounds per contest, Anigwe will be the Bears’ anchor in the paint against the slashing Wildcat offense.

On the perimeter, senior Asha Thomas will be orchestrating Cal’s attack. Thomas is a gamer from behind the arc, shooting a career-high percentage from 3-point land this season. Combined with her 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, Thomas is in the midst of her best season yet.

Joining Thomas, freshman McKenzie Forbes is shaping up to be a real threat from behind the arc. After a career night against Harvard to the tune of 22 points and six threes made, Forbes has become more and more comfortable with the Bears.

If both Forbes and Thomas are hitting their shots, Cal will likely be able to overwhelm the Wildcats from both behind the arc and in the paint.

Helping out in a variety of ways will be graduate student Receé Caldwell. Caldwell, the Bears’ assist leader, allows head coach Lindsay Gottlieb to always have multiple ballhandlers on the court.

“We have a deep team, and we have a versatile team,” Gottlieb said after Cal’s win versus USC.

Arizona will be a tough matchup, with the Wildcats fielding a similarly versatile and tall lineup. The Bears stopped their skid with a close win against USC, but if they let their guard down, the Wildcats may end a new win streak before it even begins.

Hot start to their season or not, the Bears are in the Pac-12 now, and these wins are the only ones that matter from now on.

Harshil Desai covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @harshdailycal.