Clash with Colorado presents chance to make changes

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Cal women’s basketball has had a less-than-ideal start to its 2020-2021 campaign, as it is currently winless and at the bottom of the Pac-12 with a 0-10 record overall. That is certainly in part due to the extraordinarily tough competition the Bears have faced this season in the “conference of champions,” as four of their seven Pac-12 losses have been blowouts at the hands of top 15 teams.

And it is worth noting that when they aren’t facing off against national championship contenders, the Bears have fared much better, highlighted by a 56-53 loss on the road to Arizona State that came down to the final possession. Today’s matchup in Colorado should be similar in that the Buffaloes are not one of the conference’s elite: They are 2-5 in conference play and have experienced similar blowout losses to teams such as No. 11 Oregon, who crushed the Bears 100-41 in their last outing.

Colorado is carried by senior forward Mya Hollingshed, who leads the team in points, rebounds and blocks. The Buffaloes do, however, struggle to move the ball beyond, as they average the fewest number of assists in the conference besides Cal. So, while the rocky mountain road trip against an experienced Colorado team will certainly be a tough task, if everything goes right, Cal could be competitive and maybe even enter the win column for the first time this year.

The Bears will need to make some serious changes for that to happen, though. The first issue is three-point shooting — Cal shot an atrocious 1-16 from beyond the arc against the Ducks last Sunday. Cal head coach Charmin Smith has clearly given the team the go-ahead to fire away, but so far, none of the young Bears have emerged as a consistent three-point threat.

Freshman guard Ornela Muca, for example, has made only six of the 46 threes she has attempted this season and just eight of her 67 shots from the field overall. When a team’s starting guard is averaging 2.7 points per game and shooting 11% from the field, it’s easy to see why it struggles to stretch the floor and play good offense. The team around her isn’t much better; the Bears as a whole have made 22 of their 132 threes on the year, shooting a historically bad 17% from three.

Cal’s strength lies in its high-potential front court, but failure to find its shooting stroke means that teams have learned to completely ignore perimeter threats and focus their efforts on locking the Bears down in the paint. For now, it seems as though the blue and gold will keep firing away and hoping that one of their players emerges as a three-point threat that can keep opponents honest. Until that happens though, Cal will continue to struggle.

The Bears have plenty of other problems stemming from a lack of depth in the backcourt. Cal averages the fewest steals and assists in the conference and gives up the most turnovers. As a result, the Bears score the fewest points per game in the Pac-12 by a wide margin and don’t have the defense to make up for it. So while the winless start has been disappointing, the Bears at least know from where their issues stem from. The next step is finding a way to fix them.

To turn its season around, Cal should look to focus on what it does well — getting in the paint and scoring inside. Abandoning the futile three-point shot and slowing the game down to force the ball into the paint might be the adjustment required to keep the Bears competitive.

They definitely have the players to do so. Freshman forward Dalayah Daniels, ranked as the No. 13 player in her recruiting class, leads the Bears in scoring and rebounds this year. Fellow five-star forward Ugonne Onyiah, meanwhile, had a breakout game against Oregon, with 13 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. The future of this team lies in its star-studded frontcourt. And even if a change in style doesn’t work immediately, after 10 straight losses of dying by the three-ball, something needs to change.

And so, while it may not look like it, the Bears are slowly trending in the right direction thanks to impressive performances from some of their star freshmen. If Cal can make the right adjustments in a matchup against a mediocre Colorado team, it may find a way to turn those flashes of potential into wins.

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