Cal enters daunting stretch with home-and-home matchup against Stanford

Jessica Schwabach/Staff

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After blazing out of the gates for the first couple months of the season, Pac-12 play has been Cal’s Achilles’ heel, and it’s about to get even tougher. The Bears have dropped both of their first two conference games, and Friday will be the first of a home-and-home matchup with No. 5 Stanford. The first contest will be played at Maples Pavilion, which will be followed by a day off before a rematch at UC Berkeley’s Haas Pavilion on Sunday.

During last season’s home-and-home with the then-No. 8 Cardinal, the Bears shocked the nation by staging an upset in front of their home crowd. The joy would not last long, however, as Cal was routed two days later in a 25-point loss at Maples Pavilion.

With this year’s Stanford team boasting a 13-1 record, a realistic goal for Cal would be to again split this season’s series. Even though it’s still relatively early in the season, Cal currently sits at 10th place in the Pac-12, meaning that losing both games against Stanford would be digging an even deeper hole.

The Bears are coming off a 21-point loss to Washington State, a team that Stanford just routed by 19 points a mere week ago. The Cardinal have been dominant all season, though, outscoring their opponents by more than 20 points per game on average.

They have no weaknesses that immediately jump off the page — they are top five in the conference in points, assists, rebounds, blocks and field goal percentage. Although the team doesn’t have a single player in the top-15 of the Pac-12’s scoring leaderboard, spreading the wealth is their key to success, as Stanford currently touts 11 players who average at least 12 minutes per game. As one of the most well-rounded teams in the country, there will be no easy way for Cal to game plan against its arch rivals.

If anything, their lone loss of the season — which came at the hands of Texas — revealed that Stanford is exploitable on the interior, allowing Longhorn center Charli Collier to go off for 20 points and 19 rebounds in the upset. This means that Cal center CJ West will likely be a point of emphasis on offense, and she must use her size advantage in the paint to attack Stanford.

On the perimeter, freshman guard Hannah Jump is an elite shooter whose three-point field goal percentage of 48.3 tops the Pac-12, but sophomore Lexie Hull is Stanford’s leading scorer at 13.1 points per game. Although she hit the 20-point mark in three out of the team’s first five contests, Hull has slowed down recently — she has a combined 12 total points in the past two games.

Cal, as has been the case for most of the season, will rely on senior Jaelyn Brown to carry the load offensively. But if the Bears want to take down a team of Stanford’s caliber, they will need help across the board, including from their talented quartet of freshmen.

The two games against the No. 5 Cardinal mark the beginning of an immensely difficult four-game stretch for the Bears, who, along with Stanford, will face No. 3 Oregon State and No. 2 Oregon next week. Considering that anything can happen in rivalry games of this magnitude, the Bears might have their best chance to escape an 0-4 conference start by winning the home game Sunday. Although much of the campus will be away for the break, the Bears pulled it off last year, so don’t count them out this time around.

Shailin Singh covers football. Contact him at [email protected].