After a rocky finish to the 2021-2022 season, Cal women’s basketball looks to turn over a new leaf as it enters November. Five straight losses to close the season, including a round one Pac-12 tournament loss to Utah, are behind the Bears as they hope to exceed early expectations.
In the Pac-12 preseason polls, the Bears were voted to finish 11th out of the 12 teams in the conference in both the coaches poll and media poll. While it’s a sordid ranking in a talented conference, Cal has the talent and opportunity to surprise other teams in the Pac-12.
Over the offseason, the Bears were active in the transfer portal, welcoming Sirena “Peanut” Tuitele, Claudia Langarita and Kemery Martin to Haas Pavilion. The three new Bears will have to pick up the slack left by forward Dalayah Daniels, guard Cailyn Crocker and center Fatou Samb — three key rotation players who transferred away from Cal in the offseason.
At Colorado, Tuitele averaged 7.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game while shooting 48.7 percent from the field. The 6-foot-1 senior forward is a solid three-and-D player, offering defensive versatility on the wings and some offensive ability to space the floor.
Meanwhile, Langarita is coming off of an impressive freshman year at USF, racking 10.5 points per game on 48.4% shooting. The young center has some intriguing interior scoring ability, something that the Bears were sorely lacking last season and could boost the blue and gold in the long run.
Martin, on the other hand, comes into Cal following a junior year derailed by injuries. In her breakout sophomore year, the 6-foot guard averaged 11.1 points per outing. She is a capable scorer on all three levels and can give the Bears quality minutes on both ends of the floor. It will be interesting to see how she bounces back from what could’ve been considered a lost season in Utah.
Additionally, the Bears recruited a 4-star talent in Amaya Bonner. The 6-foot freshman out of local Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland ranked 51st in ESPN’s 2022 national recruiting rankings. Bonner is a dynamic scoring talent who uses her size and athleticism to get buckets. Her playmaking abilities will allow the Bears to ease the burden of starting backcourt Leilani MacIntosh and Jayda Curry.
Speaking of Curry and MacIntosh, the duo, alongside forward Evelien Schipholt, earned preseason All-Pac-12 honors. Coming off a historic freshman season in which she averaged 18.6 ppg and brought home the Freshman of the Year award, Curry was named to the All-Conference team alongside the Pac-12’s cream of the crop. MacIntosh and Schipholt earned honorable mentions as key players of Cal’s topsy-turvy 2021-2022 season.
Head coach Charmin Smith has an abundance of talent on her hands entering this season. The late collapse of last year distracts from the fact that this Bears team opened the season on fire, boasting a 10-3 record at one point. The test for Cal women’s basketball this season will be finding strength in numbers. While Jayda Curry has proved to be an elite scorer, the rest of the Bears have to find ways to support her firepower. Other than Curry, the Bears had no other players averaging double-digit points, with Jazlyn Green being the second leading scorer at 9.4 ppg.
Thursday’s exhibition match versus the Vanguard Lions should be a small peek into Cal’s potential for the 2022-2023 season, which officially starts on Nov. 7 against CSUN at Haas Pavilion. For a team ranked second to last in the Pac-12, ahead of only Arizona State, the Bears certainly have a chance to be golden.