Alas, Pac-12 play is winding down for Cal women’s basketball. A frustrating season of inconsistency amid the nation’s top competition, the Bears have notched a measly 4-12 conference record — but they are not without a moment of glory.
Celebration was the subject of Sunday afternoon’s matchup vs top-25 USC, as Cal honored its senior class by achieving a stunning overtime upset over the Trojans. A relentless battle for all 45 minutes of play, Jayda Curry led the Bears with 27 points, with a shooting percentage of nearly 50 from the field, as contributions fired from all cylinders.
As the triumph elicited excitement, head coach Charmin Smith expressed pride in her team’s performance, especially after hanging close but falling short in previous underdog efforts.
“We showed our growth, we showed our maturity in how we handled this game,” Smith said. “It is so frustrating to be close, but we have done a really good job of continuing to show up and give everything that we have.”
With a season-first top-25 win notched in its belt, Cal is presented with two final stabs at disrupting elite opposition. The final week of conference play will send the Bears on the road to the high-powered talents of No. 8 Utah and No. 21 Colorado.
Looking to redeem a sluggish blowout defeat while hosting the Utes earlier this season, the Bears will have a hefty task in containing Utah’s versatile offensive weapons Thursday. A team that is an overall 23-3 this season, while undefeated on its home court, the Utes have plowed through Pac-12 play to earn their highest ranking in program history.
Led by 6’2” standout forward Alissa Pili, who allots 20.7 points per game and has a terrific shooting percentage of 60 from the field, the Utes have a high-flying offense, compiling 83.8 points per game. Not only does the home team convert well, with a shooting percentage of nearly 50 from the field and 35 from beyond the arc, but Utah is known to distribute the basketball with precision and ease, amounting 18.3 assists per game on average.
With a deep slate of weaponry, the Utes’ success this season has also been facilitated by 3-point threat Gianna Kneepkens, who supplies 15.2 points per game, and Jenna Johnson, averaging 11.8 points per game.
The Bears will need to set the pace and limit the Utes’ transition game, where the opponents average nearly 20 points off turnovers in each matchup. Utah’s backcourt tandem will pose problems for Cal, as Smith will likely advise her team to emphasize boxing out and rebounding down low to limit Utah’s extra possessions.
Saturday, the blue and gold will shift gears as they face Colorado in their final regular season matchup. The Buffs have pieced together a respectable 21-6 campaign. The program features a slate of offensive units that can score in different ways to fall back on when plagued by defensive woes from time to time.
Quay Miller leads the Buffs with 14.2 points per game with a shooting percentage of 46.6 from the field and securing 8.7 rebounds per contest. With six double-doubles on the season, Miller cemented a season-high 26 points in the team’s previous matchup against the Bears.
As if containing Miller won’t be enough of a mission, four other Buffs average double-digit scoring figures. 6’3” center Aaronette Vonleh, sister of 2014 NBA draft lottery pick Noah Vonleh, is a force to be reckoned with in the paint, as she records 11.4 points per game. A savvy guard, Jaylyn Sherrod dishes out five assists per game and averages 2.4 steals per matchup. Back in January, the Bears saw Sherrod come alive in the fourth quarter to solidify a win for the Buffs.
As a team, Colorado not only protects the inside on defense, but disturbs the passing lanes, averaging just under 10 steals per game. The first matchup of the Bears and Buffs earlier this season saw the Bears play remarkable defense to hang close with Colorado until the final period. If Cal can take a note from Sunday’s upset over USC, there could be capacity for recreation.
With basketball season dwindling down, Cal fans will tune into the Bears’ final matchups at 4 p.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. Saturday.