Bears look to go Duck hunting in Oregon

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There are four possible outcomes to a modern basketball game. Cal women’s basketball has covered all of them in its past four games. The team has experienced a blowout loss, a blowout win, an overtime nail-biter and a COVID-19 cancellation.

This four-game stretch is a perfect microcosm of these Bears, who are set to face Oregon tonight at 7 p.m. Cal has spent the season going from shocking highs to depressing lows with breakneck speed. The Bears shocked everybody by going 9-2 in non-conference play, but are a mere 1-6 against Pac-12 competition. Their offense has completely rebounded after a lackluster 2020-21, but their defense has regressed after a promising start to the year. Like all teams in the country, it never knows exactly what its rotation will look like before a game because of sudden COVID-19 cases.

The Bears are in the strange space, transitioning from their electric start to this apparent fall to reality. It has certainly been a frustrating month for Cal, but this is far from a lost season. The past four games were bizarre, and now, barring earlier canceled games being rescheduled, only four games remain before the Pac-12 tournament. A win against Oregon could represent a turning point where the Bears take control over a rocky, bizarre season.

To win, they’d need Jayda Curry to step up. Odds are, she will. The Bay Area local is not only the heart of Cal’s offense; she’s emerged into one of the best scorers on the West Coast. She leads the Pac-12 with more than 19 points per game. It’s remarkable that such a young player is carrying this big of a load. Curry is the only freshman in her conference to account for more than 25% of her team’s scoring. She can score from anywhere on the court and has also shown an ability to draw fouls at will and get to the line, where she makes more than 80% of her free throws. When the defense fully commits to stop her, she’s a good passer who has tallied nearly three assists per game. She’s the biggest reason for the Bears’ scoring offense surging to top four in the conference, after being dead last the previous season.

Cal faces a tough challenge against Oregon, which currently has the second-best record in Pac-12 conference play. The Ducks are well-rounded, ranking top five in scoring offense and defense within the conference. Their backcourt of Endyiua Rogers and Te-Hina Paopao match up pretty evenly against Curry and Leilani McIntosh. But their best player this season has probably been Nyara Sabally, the redshirt junior averaging a very efficient 15/7.2/2. The 6’5” forward from Berlin makes an impact on both ends, averaging 1.6 steals and 0.8 blocks. Cal’s struggling defense will have to step up in order to slow down Sabally.

This isn’t just a tough matchup on paper. On Jan. 9, Oregon blew out Cal in Haas Pavilion by a score of 88-53. This game may be even more challenging. They’re playing in Eugene, where the Ducks are 11-2 this year. However, they’re not invincible. Oregon State just caused one of those two losses earlier this week. In fact, the Ducks are in the midst of a bumpy stretch by their standards, having gone 3-3 in their past six games to follow an eight-game win streak. Now seems like the perfect time for Cal to deliver a shocking upset.

The Bears have disappointed against conference opponents, but they’re not dead yet. Tonight is one of their final chances to exact revenge on an elite Pac-12 team, and show them that the landscape of the conference is shifting.

Casey Grae covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].