Bears host Utes and Buffs, search for 1st win

Ronnie Ghose/Staff

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It’s safe to say that Pac-12 conference play hasn’t started the way the Bears wanted it to. Fresh off a 105-55 drubbing at the hands of Oregon, Cal women’s basketball sits at last place in the Pac-12, with a disappointing 0-6 conference record that leaves them as the only winless team in the conference. Still, this weekend’s homestand against the middling Utes and Buffs could be just what the Bears need to get their season back on track.

The Bears will kick off their weekend with a matinee matchup against Utah on Friday. The Utes are 9-8 overall and began Pac-12 play 0-4, but are now riding a two-game win streak with hope that they’ve turned a corner. After eking out a close 67-65 win against USC, Utah caught fire with a stand-out night against Colorado. They drained a school record 16 threes en route to a dominating 84-69 comeback win against the Buffs.

Down four at the break, the Utes controlled the second half thanks to a blistering 23-5 run in the third quarter. That streak was sparked by freshman Brynna Maxwell, who scored 19 of her career-high 24 points in the second half, and shot a scorching 6-8 from three.

Utah is averaging 8.7 threes per contest (second in the Pac-12) and relies heavily on the long-range game to propel its offense. If the Bears can guard the perimeter and force a cold shooting night, then they should be able to hang with the Utes. On the other hand, if Utah gets hot like it did against Colorado, the game could easily get out of hand.

Utah is a very young team and led in scoring by two freshmen: Maxwell (11.8 ppg) and Lola Pendande (11.9 ppg). Their last two games have shown glimpses of the high potential this youthful Utes team has, but this squad still has inexperience that Cal can take advantage of.

After their matchup against Utah, the Bears are right back in action Sunday, when Colorado comes to Berkeley. The Buffs have the same 2-4 Pac-12 record as the Utes, but sport a much better 13-4 overall record.

Cal will be playing two teams of similar caliber this weekend, so its result against Utah should be a good predictor of how the game against Colorado will go.

Junior Mya Hollingshed led the Buffs with 19 points last game and has been the focal point of the teams offense all season. She averages 13.7 ppg (a team high) and 6.7 rebounds per game.  Shutting her down should be the main priority for Cal defensively.

Similar to how Colorado’s offense runs through one player, Cal has leaned heavily on the play of senior Jaelyn Brown. She averages a team-high 14.7 ppg, while no other Bear is in double figures. When she’s on, the offense is on with her, but when she’s off, the team struggles. She had a disappointing six-point night against Oregon last game and predictably a blowout loss followed.

The Bears need her to step up over this weekends homestand, or they could enter next week still without a conference win. Still, after a brutal four-game stretch all against top-10 teams, returning to the comfortable confines of Haas Pavilion could be just what the doctor ordered for Cal to get back on track.

Utah and Colorado are good teams, but not on par with the squads Cal has recently played. They should be exciting, competitive matchups — and if the Bears can execute their gameplan, they may be able to pick up some wins in the Pac-12.

Both the Friday and Sunday matchups tip off at noon in Haas Pavilion.

Benjamin Coleman covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].