Cal women’s basketball searches for first conference victory

Sam Albillo/Senior Staff

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So you’re telling me there’s a chance? Yes — for everyone anyone looking at Cal women’s basketball conference record, yes, there is a chance. After a historically bad 0-8 start to their Pac-12 schedule, the Bears (8-11, 0-8) head to Washington for a battle of the bottom feeders to try earning their first conference win.

After emerging from a four-game gauntlet against top 10 squads Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State, Cal had it a bit easier last week, but fell again to Utah and Colorado. This weekend, however, the Bears have another chance at that elusive first Pac-12 victory as they face off with the two other teams at the bottom of the Pac-12 in Washington State and Washington.

Washington State (9-11, 2-6) stars the standout senior duo of Borislava Hristova and Chanelle Molina. The All Pac-12 first team and honorable mention selections combine for 33.5 points per game, and torched the Bears for 54 points in their last meeting. Hristova is a smooth 6’0”  forward who can score on all three levels, and Molina is a sharpshooter and playmaker who has converted 45 three-pointers this season at a 40% clip and doled out 4.5 assists a game.

Rounding out the Washington State squad is a flurry of international players, as only one Cougar is originally from the contiguous 48 states. Ula Motuga from Australia and Johanna Muzet from France both put up double-digit scoring nights on Cal in their last meeting.

Washington (10-9, 2-6) is led by superstar senior guard Amber Melgoza, who has been a  dominant volume scorer for the Huskies over the past three seasons. After averaging 19.0 and then 18.1 points per contest in the last two seasons, she’s taken a slight step back to 15.4 this year, but still leads the team.

In the first matchup this season on Jan. 3, Melgoza showed no signs of that slump, as she completely dominated the Bears en route to a season-high 31 points. She hit the game-tying three-pointer — her only one of the contest — with one minute remaining, and then scored the go-ahead jumper with 15 seconds on the clock to earn the win for Washington.

Supporting Melgoza is a deep group, as Washington sports a rotation of 11 players that feature a combination of size and shooting skill. Six rotation players stand at least six feet tall, and seven have converted at least 10 three-pointers on the season. So while not high-powered, the Husky offense is balanced and can score from everywhere on the court.

In Pac-12 play, Washington and Washington State have struggled almost as much as Cal. The three teams sit together at the pit of the conference with a combined Pac-12 record of 4-20, having only earned conference victories against each other. And while that won’t change this weekend, it provides hope for the Bears.

The Cougars enter on a four-game losing streak, and the Huskies are on a six-game skid. Last time against Washington, Cal came back from a 12-point halftime deficit to take a late lead, but lost by three after Melgoza’s heroics.

Despite their record, the Bears are showing some positive signs. The freshmen four of Leilani McIntosh, Evelien Lutje Schipholt, Jazlen Green and Cailyn Crocker are gaining more experience and taking on larger roles. Despite the losses, Cal is displaying a continual fight that head coach Charmin Smith is pleased with.

The key to success this weekend will start with stopping the opposing stars from taking over the game. Cal has historically struggled in this area, often being the team that players record their career-highs against; this weakness was on display in the last Washington weekend. In order to win, the Bears will need to hold Hristova, Molina and Melgoza under 20 points, and force others to beat them.

It won’t be easy, but I’m telling you — there’s a chance.

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