Home at Haas for last hurrah: Cal takes on Huskies, Cougars

Photo of Cal women's basketball
Caroline Lobel/Staff

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All good things must come to an end. Same with mediocre things. This week, Cal women’s basketball will host Washington and Washington State in its final matchups of conference play.

Thursday’s 7 p.m. matchup in Haas Pavilion is set to be a tussle between two programs at the bottom of the Pac-12 barrel. Washington is the only team behind the Bears in conference rankings as the Huskies have slugged through a tumultuous season. Routinely plagued by late-game struggles, the team from up north has produced just a singular conference victory, a 74-69 decision over Arizona State on Sunday, to end its 11-game losing streak.

This story of a season is not too far removed from that of the Bears’ on paper: Cal only has one conference win over USC and claimed a superficial mark in the win column after Arizona State was sanctioned to forfeit to edge out Washington with a 2-8 Pac-12 record.

Thus, this second-to-last home contest presents itself as a golden opportunity for the Bears to capture another win. Put simply, the key to the game lies in a productive and efficient offensive putting more points on the board. Although the Huskies have three key players averaging double-digit scoring, the program has struggled to score in high volumes, averaging just 56.2 points per game, whereas Cal puts up 69.3 points on average.

The Bears certainly have a plethora of weapons who can consistently put the ball in the basket, as point guard Jayda Curry leads the way with 18.9 ppg to reinforce her status as a prolific scorer. With recent strides in her offensive output, junior guard Jazlen Green is one the blue and gold can look toward, as she shoots 35.8% from 3-point land and boasted 20- and 17-point performances in recent matchups against Cal State LA and Oregon State.

Even with stellar backcourt performances, Cal women’s basketball will still need A+ efforts from its frontcourt to take on Washington’s 6’9” senior center Nancy Mulkey. The veteran star collects 10.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game for the Huskies and will easily tower over the Bears on the low block. To prolong Washington’s struggles, the Bears must establish dominance in the paint on both ends of the floor and control the tempo of the contest to adhere to their own talent both in the inside-out and transition game.

Continuing on, Cal’s regular season will come full circle Saturday as it seeks to avenge itself against Washington State: a program that served the Bears’ their first defeat of many in conference play. On Dec. 31, a depleted Cal squad was thrashed by the Cougars 69-42 on the road, setting its season off on a rocky note. Just shy of two months later, the Bears now have an opportunity to get the last word, as the three key components absent in the New Year’s Eve loss in Curry, Green and Dalayah Daniels will play in this final conference matchup.

The Bears’ sorry performance earlier this season was characterized by a lack of consistent, or even competent, offense as they connected on just 15 of 52 attempts from the field. Further, Cal allowed the Cougars to shoot a stellar 47.8% from beyond the arc, and star guard Charlisse Leger-Walker to eclipse 22 points with a 57.1% shooting performance.

Now, with the additional momentum of junior guard Johanna Teder — who was named Pac-12 Player of the Week last week after averaging 20.5 ppg and shooting 64.3% from 3-point range in wins over Arizona and Arizona State — the blue and gold will have a lot of Cougar firepower to suppress and maintain. But the presence of the three essential players makes this contest an entirely different story; and although Washington State is currently second in conference rankings, anything is possible in this last hurrah.

A big week ahead hosts the chance for Cal women’s basketball to wrap up the regular season on a positive note and keep its record above the .500 mark. Catch the blue and gold in their season finale Thursday at 7 p.m. and then again Saturday at noon, or tune into the Pac-12 Network.

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