The Pac-12 tournament is almost here, and the best thing that can happen to Cal women’s basketball after a season full of ups and downs is to go into the tournament in Las Vegas with four straight wins.
And the best way to achieve that, after two heroic comeback wins at home last weekend, is to play the teams at the bottom of the pac(k). After losing its last three games on the road, Cal will try to keep its form ready for March with a sweep on the road.
This weekend, the Bears travel north into the dens of the Huskies and the Cougars.
At 7 p.m. Friday, Washington will host Cal, coming off a win on the road against Colorado, which snapped the Huskies’ 10-game losing streak. Washington has had another subpar season and is sitting at 11th place in the conference, with its only two conference wins coming against the last-place Buffaloes. Washington is definitely looking back with nostalgia at the Kelsey Plum era.
The Huskies shoot less than 30 percent behind the arc and struggle to produce impressive stat lines in any area. Washington, however, can cause trouble, at times, with its aggressive defense, which averages 8.4 steals per game. Despite recent improvements in the latter stretch of the season, the Bears still come across as being somewhat turnover-prone.
The last time both sides met, Washington shot lights out behind the arc despite season-long struggles with a season-high 56.5 percent accuracy, but even that was only enough for three quarters against Cal. Starting the last quarter down by 2 points, the Bears had a blast for 30 points to the Huskies’ 19 for a 79-70 win.
The only legitimate weapon second-year head coach Jody Wynn has that can cause damage to any and all teams is junior guard Amber Melgoza. With 18.1 points per game, Melgoza is the only Husky who averaged double-digit scoring this season. Despite being a 5’10” guard, Melgoza is also the leading rebounder in Washington, with 4.4 per game, which means there will be more than enough opportunities to feed the nation’s leading rebounder’s hunger for the boards.
Arguably the best center in the nation, Kristine Anigwe is playing on another level, averaging 15.9 rebounds per game, 2.5 rebounds more than the second-best rebounder in the nation. The senior center/forward also ranks seventh in the nation in scoring, with 22.9 points per game. Anigwe’s double-double streak currently sits at 28, and a double-double against the Huskies would tie for the most in Pac-12 history, which would give her chance to break the record against Washington State.
The Cougars currently sit one spot above the Huskies at 10th place in the conference, but they definitely have more weapons, with three players averaging in double figures (Cal has only two). A 20-20 game by Anigwe led the Bears to a fairly easy 77-63 win when the two sides last met in January. Washington State will be looking for redshirt junior forward Borislava Hristova to bring a victory to the home side in Sunday’s matchup. Hristova averages 20.8 points per game (16th in the nation) and 5.7 rebounds per game.
Cal’s guards will also be matched well with the Cougars’. Coming off a monster weekend that earned her Pac-12 Player of the Week honors, all eyes will be on graduate student Receé Caldwell, who averages a 36.8 3-point shooting percentage and leads the team with 4.2 assists. On the other side of the court will be Chanelle Molina. Washington State’s junior guard shoots 41.1 percent behind the arc for 16.1 points per game. The all-around guard is also dishing out a team-high 5.3 assists per game and is second on the team with 5.6 rebounds per game.
As long as the Cougars can keep Anigwe in check — it’s not like they can stop her, but maybe they can at least hold her to a simple double-double — Washington State will hold a puncher’s chance, especially behind the arc, to make things interesting.
Everything is in place for Cal to snap its road losing streak and go to Las Vegas with a four-game winning streak, and the Bears are likely looking to raise some eyebrows in the conference championship.