It seems as if everything that could go wrong for the Bears this year has. Cal women’s basketball has experienced a disappointing start to the 2020-21 season, dropping its first three games and having several players suffer season-ending injuries. Fortunately for the Bears, a home contest against winless San Francisco in their final nonconference game may be just what they need to get their season back on track.
The blue and gold started on the wrong foot with two nonconference losses at home to San Jose State and CSU Bakersfield, and things didn’t get any better from there. On Dec. 2, head coach Charmin Smith announced three of the Bears’ guards, including last year’s leading scorer Jazlen Green, would miss this year because of injuries.
Cal entered its first Pac-12 matchup stretched thin, with a rotation of only eight players comprised of five freshmen, two sophomores and one senior walk-on. Even against Washington, one of only two teams picked to finish below Cal in the Pac-12 preseason coaches poll, the blue and gold suffered an 80-53 blowout loss.
The season is only three games in, and Smith and her players already don’t appear where they want to be. Still, the Bears have a prime opportunity to salvage their season against a struggling San Francisco team. The Dons have lost both of their games to start the year, dropping a close contest to UC Davis in the season opener before falling to the Pac-12’s Oregon State last Thursday.
The Dons’ lone bright spot thus far has been the play of redshirt freshman Ioanna Krimili, who scored a game-high 27 points in the Dons’ last matchup, shooting 7-for-10 from deep. Shutting her down will likely be key for the Bears finding success Thursday evening.
San Francisco fields a porous defense, having given up 82 and 89 points, respectively, in their first two games. Cal meanwhile has struggled on the offensive end, putting up scoring totals of 48, 52 and 53 points in its three losses. A matchup with the Dons is shaping up to be the perfect chance for the Bears’ offense to awaken from hibernation.
Similar to San Francisco, Cal has found success early on in its younger members. Perhaps this is best seen in the play of freshman forward Dalayah Daniels. She has been an integral piece within the blue and gold’s lineup, averaging 9 points and 8.3 rebounds this season. Even in her first season, Daniels has not let the pressure get the best of her, and her skills look promising for the future of Cal’s program.
Sophomore guard Leilani McIntosh works in tandem with Daniels to lead the Bears’ offense on most nights. McIntosh leads the team in scoring, averaging 11.3 points per game.
For the Bears to truly turn their season around, the rest of the much-heralded freshmen class will need to step up. Establishing some consistency beyond Daniels and McIntosh is critical. Boasting one of the youngest teams in the conference, the Bears may have a long season ahead if their newcomers take time to find their footing at the collegiate level.
Unfortunately, most of Cal’s issues do not appear to have immediate fixes. The team is young, and injuries have affected the depth of its roster. To make matters worse, it has struggled to score from outside the three-point line. Focusing on development and fundamentals such as defense then will be critical to keeping the team competitive.
Smith’s squad may not win many games this year, but getting young players ample minutes should bode well for the team to succeed in the future. Ultimately, it will be Smith’s responsibility to keep the team together through the slump it finds itself in right now.
The road doesn’t appear to get any easier though, as Cal jumps into a deadly Pac-12 slate after its contest with San Francisco, kicking things off on Sunday against No. 1 Stanford, which is fresh off an 83-50 beatdown of the very same Washington squad that bested Cal last week.
While it’s hard to call any game a must-win this early in the year, if the Bears hope to get into the win column this season, a matchup Thursday against another winless team in San Francisco is a good place to start.
Benjamin Coleman covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].