Cal beat Oregon State at home almost two weeks ago now, 64-62. Perhaps it was only home court advantage that separated the two teams, as the Beavers also sit in the bottom three of the conference standings. And a win is a win, especially if it’s a victory that breaks a six-game losing streak.
But it apparently didn’t do much beyond improving the Bears’ conference record from 1-8 to 2-8.
After losing to Oregon two days prior, head coach Charmin Smith and sophomore guards Kemery Martín and Jayda Curry studied their shoes during the post-game press conference.
“We just have to keep pushing. I know I sound like a broken record, but we’ll get over the hump,” Smith said. “We just have to stay with it.”
The Oregon State win did not embody “getting over the hump,” as it turned out. It broke a skid but — to put it in less flattering terms — it became the Bears’ sole win in their last nine games after losses to Washington and Washington State last week.
Now, Cal will head to Arizona to play the Sun Devils on Friday night and the Wildcats on Sunday morning with good odds of adding one more blip to what is otherwise a skid.
Arizona State was the walk in the park that Cal has long awaited. The Sun Devils are winless in conference play with an 0-12 record and have struggled with injuries. Those injury problems got so bad that head coach Natasha Adair announced that her team would not travel to Utah or Colorado in mid-January. Arizona State was forced to forfeit both games.
Both before and since, fielding a team against a conference opponent has been just as fruitful as staying at home. Adair’s team ranks last in scoring defense among all conference teams, allowing almost 73 points per game. The team’s field goal percentage also ranks dead last at 36.5%.
The only team worse than Cal in rebounding margin? You guessed it: Arizona State at -5.19.
Less reassuring for Cal is the fact that ASU played some of its best basketball of the season against Washington and Washington State, to whom the Bears lost badly in back-to-back games this past weekend. The Sun Devils came within four of the Cougars and lost by just two points to the Huskies in late January on the back of stout defensive performances. By way of comparison, Cal lost by 16 to Washington and 10 to Washington State, allowing 70 points in both games.
Arizona is a different beast entirely. The Wildcats jumped five spots from No. 22 in the AP rankings to No. 17 last week after coming from behind to upset UCLA in overtime and beating USC in double overtime two days later. Cate Reese, Arizona’s fifth-year all-conference forward who’s averaging just under 13 points this season, scored a season high 33 against the Trojans.
The last time Reese recorded a 30-piece was against Cal on March 6, 2020 in her second year with the Wildcats.
Arizona will be heavily favored Sunday. But the Wildcats’ achilles heel — rebounding — might very well allow the Bears to stick around for longer than they ought to.
After falling to Washington State on Sunday, Smith rightly pointed out that the Cougars got too many offensive rebounds — 12, to be exact — and those extra possessions eventually turned into points. This isn’t a new flaw: Cal is second to last in the conference in rebounding margin for conference games.
But, sitting right above the Bears are the Wildcats at -3.83. If sophomore forward Claudia Langarita and junior forward Michelle Onyiah can keep Arizona off the glass, those possessions that Cal has missed out on all year could turn into much needed offense, and one blip could turn into two.