Cal women’s basketball hosts Arizona schools for final homestand

Basketball player holds the ball between her hands about to make a move as an opponent player hovers behind her.
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February is a celebration of many things, from love to presidents to Black history, but the Cal women’s basketball team has yet to celebrate a victory this month. This weekend, though, the Bears will have two more chances to change that in their final homestand of the season against No. 17 Arizona State and Arizona.

Arizona State (18-6, 9-4) is a defensive powerhouse. The Sun Devils hold opponents to less than 40 percent shooting, and their stopping ability was on full display last weekend against Utah. Down 18 with eight minutes to go, Arizona State held Utah scoreless for the remainder of the contest, closing the game on a 20-0 run for a miraculous victory.

Arizona State’s stout defense has been tested by the best teams in the country. The Sun Devils have squared off with three of the now-top-four teams in the country and held No. 1 Baylor, No. 2 Oregon and No. 4 Louisville to 17, 10 and 21 points below their season averages, respectively.

In its first meeting with the Bears in January, Arizona State largely bottled up Cal’s offense en route to a 62-61 win. Kristine Anigwe was held to just 5-17 from the field, and no other starter scored more than 7 points.

Individually, the Sun Devils are paced by senior forward Kianna Ibis, who puts up 14.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game and has the ability to score at all three levels. Back in January, Ibis went off for 26 points on 9-12 shooting, including 4-4 from beyond the arc.

Alongside Ibis in the starting lineup are guards Courtney Ekmark, Robbi Ryan and Reili Richardson. Ekmark is a streaky scorer — she’s been quiet against top teams, putting up fewer than 7 points on eight occasions, but she is liable to catch fire, with multiple 20-point games this season. Ryan is a solid third scoring option, and Richardson is the facilitator, leading the team with more than four assists per game.

The second matchup of the weekend is against Arizona (17-8, 7-7). The Wildcats have had an up-and-down conference schedule, starting off with big wins over Arizona State and Cal but slumping a bit midseason before earning two more victories last weekend.

The Wildcats are defensively sound as well, holding opponents to just 38 percent shooting and forcing 16.6 turnovers per game. When Arizona and Cal faced off in January, the Wildcats held the Bears to just 55 points, their second-lowest output this season.

Redshirt sophomore guard Aari McDonald is the engine for Arizona. McDonald ranks third in the country with 24.8 points per game, but she does it all for the Wildcats, also leading the team in assists, steals, 3-pointers and defensive rebounds. In the previous contest back in January, McDonald torched the Bears for 36 points, going 5-8 from downtown.

Cal fell to both schools during its desert road trip earlier this season, so Haas Pavilion should be a welcome sight for the homesick Bears. Cal is 4-3 in conference at home, compared to 1-6 on the road, and given the close games earlier this year, the Bears will have a good chance to earn a couple wins.

For the seniors on the roster, this weekend will be the final time they’ll suit up at home. And for Anigwe, the story comes full circle, as the Phoenix native will look to cap off her career in Haas Pavilion with a couple wins against her home-state schools.

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