Thrown a bone: can Cal women’s basketball earn 2nd conference win?

Ronnie Ghose/Staff

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Sometimes life throws you a bone. Maybe a Monday morning class gets canceled, or your favorite shirt — which you thought you had lost forever — appears one day in the back of your closet, or your crush happens to sit next to you on the bus.

Cal’s win over Washington on Sunday night, its first win in conference play through 10 games, felt as if life had thrown the Bears a bone. After losing nine straight games, Cal head coach Charmin Smith and her team finally put together a winning performance against Washington, which is only 2-8 in conference play.

Now Cal heads back home to play USC (11-10, 3-7), another team that has struggled to  find any luck against conference foes. After three consecutive conference game victories, the Trojans are currently riding a two-game losing streak following losses at No. 19 Arizona State and No. 12 Arizona.

For Bears fans, this may seem like a reason to be hopeful for another win. But considering that USC earned a win over now-No. 10 UCLA earlier in the season and only lost by one to Arizona State in a triple-overtime thriller on the road recently, it is doubtful that the Trojans will throw the Bears another bone.

While the Trojans lack a clear superstar, they have an arsenal of offensive weapons. Two whiz kids — freshman forward Alissa Pili and freshman guard Endyia Rogers — should be expected to work their magic against a Cal team that has struggled to contain the opposition’s best scorers all year long.

Pili, who leads USC in scoring, has been on fire recently, averaging 20.2 points per game over the last five games. Fellow youngster Rogers averaged nearly 27 points per game in the three-game span prior to their matchup against the Wildcats last Sunday and is shooting a stellar 82.7% from the field over their last four games. Unless Smith comes up with a plan to throw Pili and Rogers off their rhythm, expect the two freshmen to run rampant Friday night.

Alongside stopping USC’s two biggest offensive weapons, Cal’s stars need to keep their form if they expect to earn their second conference victory. CJ West had a huge game for the Bears in their win over the Huskies, scoring a season-high 22 points. Friday night’s game will be the senior’s third game back after missing three games with a head injury she suffered in the loss against Oregon State, so she will be at full health and rearing to return in earnest.

Senior forward and Cal’s leading scorer Jaelyn Brown also had herself a night against the Huskies, putting up 19 points and 11 rebounds. Brown, who has started every game for the Bears this season, has struggled with consistency. In the four games leading up to Sunday night’s matchup against Washington, the senior averaged a measly 8.5 points per game.

Cal will look to seasoned veterans West and Brown to lead the team in scoring against the Trojans. Freshman guards Leilani McIntosh and Jazlen Green are dangerous when they get up and going and could provide the spark the Bears will need to earn their second conference victory.

McIntosh, a true freshman from Phoenix, Arizona, was thrown into the deep end to begin her collegiate career, having started in all 21 of Cal’s games this season. With quite a bit of experience under her belt, McIntosh is poised for a breakout game.

Green, who already had a breakout game against Washington State last week in which she put up a career-high 18 points, has demonstrated that she is capable of changing the course of a game with ease.

Question marks are abound heading into Friday night’s game, so don’t expect USC to throw Cal another bone. Conversely, don’t be surprised if the Bears snatch one right out of the Trojans’ hands.

William Cooke covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].