Bears look to bounce back against Bulldogs

photo of Cal women's basketball
Caroline Lobel /Staff

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Last Saturday, the Bears saw their perfect 5-0 start disrupted as Ole Miss served them their first loss of the season in dominating fashion. The blue and gold struggled to find the bottom of the net throughout the contest, shooting a season-low 23% from the field and an atrocious 2-18 from three-point land, resulting in a somber 19-point defeat.

“It was not the outcome that we wanted … We struggled to make shots and I wish we could’ve been better, but there were a lot of things to learn from as we move on,” head coach Charmin Smith said in a post-game press conference.

Although understandably disappointed with their poor performance, Smith and the Bears have the opportunity to revise their shortcomings and bounce back against Fresno State on Thursday morning.

A solid program in previous years, Fresno State accomplished a 17-11 record for the 2020-21 modified COVID-19 season, including 12-6 in Mountain West conference play. In the postseason, it appeared as one of the 32 teams selected to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT).

However, Bulldogs fans have been less than thrilled with their team’s rough preseason and non-conference start to the 2021-22 season. Thus far, Fresno State has tallied an underwhelming 2-4 record and will travel to Berkeley on a three-game losing streak.

To rectify their slow start, the Bulldogs hope to unleash a storm of twin talent. The team is led by two junior guards, sisters Haley and Hanna Cavinder. Haley makes her presence known in every element of the game, averaging 17 points, 9.7 rebounds and 6.2 assists per contest on the season. Keeping the Bulldogs’ scoring efforts in the family, Hanna supplies an average of 14.3 points per game, and has shot an impressive 46% from beyond the arc this season. The backcourt duo will be a pair to watch Thursday morning, as Cal must look to effectively limit their contributions in its quest for victory.

The blue and gold are not the only ones who have been plagued with dire shooting woes, however, as Fresno State has shot a subpar 38% from the field and 34% from three-point range. As such, Thursday’s match-up may become a contest of two programs racing to remedy their poor shooting performances. But to prolong the Bulldogs’ struggles, the Bears should resort to what they do best –– locking in defensively and building offensive opportunities through transition play.

Cal’s strength lies in its momentous team defense. Its ability to mitigate its opponent’s attacks by remaining alert in the gaps on the defensive rotation propelled the blue and gold to 25 points off turnovers in last week’s win over Utah State. The Bears will look to the likes of forwards Dalayah Daniels, Jadyn Bush and season standout Evelien Lutje Schipholt to tyrannize the paint on both ends of the floor by antagonizing Fresno State’s front court, crashing the boards and converting second chance buckets.

Rather than continuing to fire away low-percentage shots and praying to reinvent themselves as a threat from the three-point line, the team can turn to its fearless leader: freshman point guard Jayda Curry.

Curry has given Cal fans plenty to be excited about, as she was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Week for the third consecutive week on Monday, becoming just the fifth player to garner such a feat since the introduction of the award in 2012. A unique and dynamic asset averaging 21 points per contest, Curry will look to further her explosive start to her college career and grow as a leader for the Bears. The star point guard must facilitate Cal’s inside-out offense and continue to polish her overall performance in the face of the Bulldogs’ Cavinder twins.

Thursday’s match-up provides the blue and gold with an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and showcase that they have what it takes to bounce back from a loss. The Bears are looking for support from their fans as they take on Fresno State this Thursday at 11:30 a.m. PST at Haas Pavilion.

Jane Kenny covers women’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected].