Bears return from break looking to save season

Photo of Ornela Muca of Cal Women's Basketball
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A little more than two weeks ago, Cal women’s basketball dropped a close contest to Colorado and fell to 0-11 on the season. Still, the blue and gold showed flashes of potential and were set to face a Utah team ranked third to last in the conference the next day, so there was reason to hope the team could turn its season around.

Instead, a COVID-19 outbreak ravaged the program, so while its upcoming game is still against Utah, it comes after an 18-day pause during which five games were postponed. Now, with just seven games remaining on its schedule, Cal faces a potential turning point for its season beginning this Friday against the Utes. Will the rested Bears build off their momentum from before the break and find their way into the win column for the first time this season? Or will the abrupt shutdown keep Cal’s season spiraling out of control?

There are reasons to believe that the blue and gold may turn a new leaf with the return of their season. For one, the Bears looked to have turned a corner against Colorado even in defeat, specifically in the 3-point shooting department. They entered that game shooting 17% from beyond the arc, a mark that left them at No. 335 among 336 Division I teams in the country. In the previous game against Oregon, they shot a season-worst 1-16 from deep.

Against the Buffs, though, the Bears’ fortunes reversed. Cal made a season-high 10 threes on 27 attempts, finishing the game at an impressive 37% clip from deep, a mark that, if maintained, should keep the team competitive in every game it plays going forward.

What’s perhaps most exciting for the Bears, though, is the arrival of reinforcements. After multiple season-ending injuries, the Bears have played the year with only two guards on scholarship. The short-handed backcourt has been a key source of issues this year, but the arrival of a new player should give it renewed life.

Mia Mastrov, a 5’11” guard from nearby Lafayette, California, has graduated high school early and will join the Bears on Friday.

“We are thrilled to have Mia join us for the spring semester,” said Cal head coach Charmin Smith. “She adds perimeter skills and talent to our roster that has been decimated with injuries.”

While it would be unrealistic to expect a 17-year-old to make an immediate impact fresh out of high school ball, her arrival should take the load off of an undermanned roster and give fans a glimpse of the future.

“I am super excited to join the team and help in any way possible,” Mastrov said. “Having the ability to join early is a huge opportunity in the long run and I’m ready to get to work.”

The blue and gold will face off against a Utah team that’s lost nine of its last 11 games and will have a prime opportunity to get their first win of the season if they can shake off the rust from their coronavirus-induced break. To do that, they’ll need to shut down sophomore Brynna Maxwell, a hot-shooting guard who leads the Utes with 13.6 points per game. Her backcourt mate Kemery Martín is no slouch either, as she averages 10.9 points per game and combines with Maxwell to form one of the best 3-point shooting backcourts in the conference.

Mastrov and the rest of the Bears’ short-handed backcourt will be tested immediately by Utah’s dynamic duo. The Utes are significantly weaker inside though, so if freshman forward Dalayah Daniels, the Bears’ leading scorer this season, can assert her dominance in the paint, Cal will be able to put points on the board.

Cal faces perhaps the most winnable game left on its schedule this year, and one that may make or break its season. While its year may go from bad to worse with a demoralizing loss, if Mastrov can make an impact and the team as a whole continues to progress, the Bears may just find a way to secure their first win of the year.

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