No. 3 Oregon in town as Cal women’s basketball returns to Haas Pavilion for daunting weekend

Josh Kahen/Staff

Related Posts

What does home mean? For many, it means sanctuary, safety and comfort, but to the Cal women’s basketball team, it’s anything but. The Bears are 0-7 at home in conference play, and when they return to Haas Pavilion for their final homestand of the season, that zero will be tough to change.

Two of the top teams in the country in No. 3 Oregon and No. 15 Oregon State will arrive in Berkeley. The two squads have a combined record of 43-9, and when Cal traveled to the Beaver State a month ago, the Bears lost the two games by a combined 87 points.

Up first is a Friday evening matchup against Oregon (24-2), a team that is coming off of a series of convincing victories over ranked opponents. Three weeks ago, the Ducks took down then-No. 4 UConn in Storrs by 18 points, and followed it up with blowouts of No. 12 Arizona, No. 19 Arizona State and No. 7 UCLA by 30, 31 and 34 points, respectively.

As it has been all season, the center of Oregon’s game in those victories was its big three of Sabrina Ionescu, Ruthy Hebard and Satou Sabally.

Ionescu is the heart and soul of the team, an all-around superstar who is rewriting the record books. The 5’11” guard is 20 rebounds short of becoming the first player in college basketball history — men’s or women’s — to reach 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists in their career. Ionescu has already amassed all the major individual awards in college basketball, and she returned for her senior season to reach her final goal, the national championship.

Ruthy Hebard is a 6’4” senior forward who has been a picture of consistency from the moment she arrived on campus in Eugene. A low-post presence with a great back to the basket game and soft touch, she has posted career averages of 16.4 points and 9 rebounds per game while shooting 64.8% from the field.

Against UConn, Arizona and UCLA, Hebard led Oregon in scoring and did it on incredible efficiency, highlighted by a 30-point, 17-rebound performance against UCLA in which she shot 14-19 from the field.

Sabally is the final piece of Oregon’s three-headed attack, and she’s just as impressive. A 6’4” junior forward, the southpaw has the versatility to play inside and out. On offense, she has three-point range, guard-like handles and the quickness to drive past slower bigs. On defense, she has a long wingspan that allows her to challenge shots and get in passing lanes, and she has the size and mobility to guard all five positions.

The trio went through heartbreaking exits in the Elite Eight and Final Four in 2018 and 2019, and they’re on a mission of redemption this year. Adding to the fire is the fact that this is the final year in Eugene for all three, as Sabally announced Thursday that she will forgo her senior year and declare for the WNBA draft.

The last time Cal faced off with Oregon, Ionescu, Hebard and Sabally alone outscored the Bears 61-55. Cal simply doesn’t have an answer for the Ducks’ offense; few teams do. The three are so dynamic and play so well together that it becomes a vicious game of pick your poison.

On Sunday, the Bears will have their final home game of the regular season, and it might be their last shot at getting a conference victory in Haas Pavilion.

Oregon State (19-7) was sitting close to the top of the Pac-12 just a few weeks ago, but the team is on a downward trend. After barely escaping with a two-point win against Arizona State, the Beavers have lost three in a row to Arizona, USC and UCLA.

Still, the Beavers boast a sturdy defense that held Cal to 25.8% shooting in their last meeting. This time, the Bears will need everyone to pitch in like they did last week, when Cailyn Crocker and Alaysia Styles both scored career-highs en route to a win over Utah.

The upcoming games will be daunting for the Bears, and home will provide no shelter. Most people might be able to kick off their shoes and let their guard down at home, but the Bears will need their guard up if they want to avoid another pair of blowout losses.

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