Cal journeys to desert looking to close out season with wins

Josh Kahen/Staff

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In a year full of ups and downs, Cal women’s basketball has an opportunity to end the regular season on a high note as it heads out on a road trip to close the final weekend of Pac-12 play. The Bears have quietly put together a recent string of solid performances, and now they’ll look to translate those into wins. Victories won’t come easy though, as they face off against two top-25 teams this weekend in Arizona and Arizona State.

Cal has been searching for a signature upset win all season, and it’s now or never if it hopes to snag that defining triumph over a ranked opponent. The Bears have been at the mercy of every ranked Pac-12 opponent they’ve faced and are 0-7 against such opponents so far, a mark that may not improve when they visit two tournament-bound teams looking to send their seniors out in style. This is entirely possible, but on the other hand, getting away from the constricting confines of Haas Pavilion may be just what the doctor ordered for Cal to get something more out of its season.

The Bears have been dreadful in Berkeley this season with an 0-9 Pac-12 home record, and have only won conference games on the road. They’ll look to continue that trend as they head down south this weekend.

ASU and Arizona are some of the best teams in the conference, and they might overlook last-place Cal, with tournament season just around the corner. The Bears will need to catch these teams sleeping to have any chance of pulling off the upset.

As if the games needed any extra weight, Cal hasn’t faced either team yet this season, and one of the two will likely be its opponent in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas next week. ASU is currently slotted to match up against Cal in the 12 vs. 5 matchup, but if Arizona falls one spot in the standings, it would face off against the blue and gold. Cal is locked into the last place spot in the conference regardless of upcoming outcomes. Even if Cal isn’t able to win, building some experience and familiarity against its likely tournament foes will be invaluable.

The road trip starts in Tempe on Friday night against the No. 24 Sun Devils. ASU is a streaky team that can have bad games, but when it’s on, it is one of the best in the nation. ASU handed No. 3 Oregon its only loss in conference, but it is also coming off a bad loss to Utah, a team that Cal edged earlier this season.

The Sun Devils lack a sole superstar but rather rely on a well-rounded squad that combines to make a formidable roster. They are led in scoring by senior Ja’Tavia Tapley, who averages 11.8 points per game, but fellow seniors Robbi Ryan and Reili Richardson aren’t far behind, averaging 10.6 and 9.8 points per game, respectively.

These seniors will look to avenge their tough loss to Utah and end their regular-season careers on a high note when they take on the Bears.

Cal will be right back in action Sunday for a morning matchup with the Wildcats. No. 13 Arizona may not get as much national attention as some of the Pac-12’s other elite squads, but it has as good a chance as any to make some noise in the postseason tournament.

The Wildcats are led by high-scoring junior Aari McDonald, who averages 20.5 points and can take over a game on any given night. McDonald is accompanied by 6’2” sophomore Cate Reese, who is the Robin to her Batman, averaging 13.6 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. These two should help the Wildcats dominate the Pac-12 in upcoming years, especially as other teams see their star seniors graduate.

For Cal, its five seniors will look to make a statement in their final regular-season games, and should once again look to the experienced Jaelyn Brown to lead their scoring. She led the team in scoring last game against OSU with 17 points, but was matched by freshman Cailyn Crocker. Thus, this closing weekend should also serve as a changing of the guard, with Crocker and her three fellow freshmen representing the future of the team.

As the team’s time together comes to a close, the Bears will look to send their seniors out on a high note — but it won’t come easy on the road against two ranked opponents.

Friday’s match begins at 7 p.m. and Sunday’s game tips off at 11 a.m.

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