Although Cal women’s basketball fell on New Year’s Day, the three-point loss to Arizona State was by far its most impressive game of the season and marked the team’s closest margin of defeat. The Bears are looking to continue their strong start in 2021 and earn their first win of the season against the Wildcats on Sunday.
Historically, Cal has handled Arizona, boasting an all-time record of 38-32 against its Pac-12 rivals from Tucson. But last season, the Wildcats got the last laugh, ousting the Bears from the Pac-12 tournament to the tune of 86-73. Notable performances from then-freshmen and current Cal sophomores in that contest include a 15-point effort by Jazlen Green, a seven-point and four-rebound performance by Leilani Mcintosh and a defensive showcase from Evelien Lutje Schipholt, who had two blocks and two steals. With Green out for the season, it will be up to the latter two to step up if the Bears want revenge.
As has been the case with all of its conference games this year, Cal enters this matchup as a heavy underdog. The Wildcats are currently No. 6 in the nation, boasting a 7-1 record, highlighted by a near-perfect 5-1 record in conference play. But Arizona is by no means an impossible matchup for Cal, and the Wildcats’ 81-54 defeat at the hands of Stanford on Friday shows that they still have flaws.
While it does not have the same defensive prowess as Stanford, there are areas Cal can reasonably expect to go its way. Arizona is shooting a dismal 30% from deep this season and isn’t the most efficient scoring team, clocking in at nearly 42% from the field overall. If the Bears can bait the Wildcats into shooting more threes rather than allowing them into the paint, they may give themselves a fighting chance on the offensive end. Of course, this strategy hinges on the opponents missing shots, and this is easier said than done, as Arizona has many proven scorers, including Aari McDonald and Cate Reese, who are averaging 19.1 and 12. 5 points per game on the year, respectively.
The Wildcats have more strengths than weaknesses, however, and are an elite defensive team. Arizona is currently outscoring its opponents by double digits and averaging nearly 18 points per game off of turnovers. The Wildcats also force nearly 16 turnovers per game while only committing 12 themselves. And here’s the kicker: Opponents are only averaging 10 points per game off of Arizona’s turnovers. This is an indicator of just how strong the Wildcats’ transition defense is.
In order for the blue and gold to get their first win of the year, they must build off of their strong offensive efficiency from last game. Expect Dalayah Daniels and McIntosh to carry the scoring load for the Bears, as they combined for 35 of the team’s 53 points in their last outing. However, even if Daniels and McIntosh register strong scoring nights, Cal must get output from other players if it wants to beat the No. 6 team in the nation — Mcintosh and Daniels’ efforts weren’t even enough to beat Arizona State. Furthermore, the blue and gold must make smart passes and play a clean game, as Arizona poses a threat in transition and will surely capitalize on turnovers.
If they can do those things, then perhaps the Bears will return to Berkeley with an upset victory under their belts and momentum heading into the second half of the season.
Justin Kim covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].