Learning More About Women's Basketball Part III

Part I

Part II

In the first installment, we looked at some recent history of the Cal women's basketball team.  In the second installment, we looked at some of the players on this team.  Now, let's take a closer look at some more players that will be key for this team and the future.  And let's also take a look at how the team has done so far. 

And if you want to see something akin to this scene again, you might need to go to a woman's basketball game this year:

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"Haas, packed and rocking!"  via graphics.fansonly.com

The first player to look at is Rama N'diaye.

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via grfx.cstv.com

N'diaye, who honed her skills in Senegal and Japan, enters her junior season at Cal as a key contributor to the team's post rotation...enjoyed showing her Cal team around Senegal and Tunisia in the spring of 2008 on the team's Africa tour...has worked hard in the off-season to rehabilitate an ACL and meniscus injuries to be ready to make an impact for the Bears in 2008-09...played for the Senegal national team over the summer of 2007 and returned to campus better conditioned and more physical...has shown a lot of growth after adjusting to a new culture and school in 2006-07...versatile athlete who can play the three, four or five positions...physical and runs the floor well...talented post player who can also shoot from range...fast learner who works consistently hard...excels in the open court...excellent defender with long arms...great shot blocker.

N'diaye is a very interesting person.  Originally from Senegal, she played high school ball in Japan of all places.  English is her fourth language!  I can barely speak English as anybody who has ever read any of my posts at this site can attest.  Yet, she can speak four (at least!).  She might also be fluent in Armenian.  I wouldn't put it past her.  Here is an article from a few years ago:

The 20-year-old N'diaye, whose full name is Adji Ramatoulaye N'diaye, is the oldest of seven children and has not been home since leaving Dakar, Senegal, for Japan to play her final three high school seasons.

She hasn't seen her family in three years and homesickness set in when she arrived on the Berkeley campus this past summer -- though she communicates with her family by e-mail and a few phone calls a month.

"It's tough," she said.

Her father is an inspector of police for the United Nations and her mother a high school administrator.

Moussa Diagne, a senior on the Furman men's team, understands what N'diaye is going through and pulls for her to find success.

"It means a lot for our basketball scene," Diagne said after a recent game at Cal. "People now are all over the place playing basketball -- not only boys, but girls, too. We have a lot of talent and potential there."

Yet N'diaye had little interest in basketball early on, even after her grandfather gave her a ball as a gift when she was 12 and already 6 feet tall. Living with her grandparents for the summer, she would tag along to the gym as her brother played pickup games, until one day she finally decided to take part.

When the boys said they wanted no girls, she had a quick retort: "If I'm not playing, I'll take my ball."

She was instantly in.

Her brother taught her to play and she quickly developed into a top prospect. A professional player from her country already playing in Japan encouraged her to make the move to Asia.

There, she averaged 20 points, 18 rebounds, seven blocks and six assists per game as a senior. N'diaye expressed interest in going to college and getting a business degree while also playing basketball -- and a man she met in Japan had a connection to Cal assistant Kim Hairston.

"He sent us this tape and said, 'I'm thinking of sending this tape out to some schools. Tell me what you think," Boyle said. "After Kim looked at the tape, she said, 'Don't you dare send that tape out to anybody because we want her."

That's just an excerpt you should really read the whole article.  Very interesting. 

Here is a recent Q+A with N'Diaye.

Let’s talk basketball now. Your first year, Coach Boyle said that it was really tough on you, what with the transition to a new country, and new language, and all that. But the second year, you showed a lot of growth. There were stretches where you were dominant, where you showed what you were capable of.
Yeah, the second year was really easy. First year, it was hard. Everything was new, this basketball language. When I was in Japan, it wasn’t that hard, even when I did not speak the language, because it was high school basketball. And when I first came here, Coach played me at three positions, and I had to learn the plays for all of them. I was really trying, but it was too much for me. It was depressing. Then I went home that summer. And maybe I needed to see my family and be by myself a little bit. But when I was there, I was practicing all the time, post position and wing position. Then when I came back here, I worked hard every day, before practice, after practice. I began to talk to the coaches more, ask more questions. My first year, I was kind of afraid a little bit. Everything was new. Second year, I was more relaxed.

 

And the beginning of last season, you had the opportunity to start, since Devanei Hampton was injured. But then Devanei came back, and you came off the bench. Was that difficult, playing fewer minutes?
It was not that difficult. It was just something you can do, but you don’t have the opportunity to do it. You go from playing 40 minutes to playing 20—it’s way different. But of course you know that if you have more minutes, you get the chance to show more what you can do.

 

Then of course, at the end of the season, you got injured in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. We saw it on TV, on replay. What was it like for you in that moment?
I fell, and it was an easy fall, so I never thought... When I was down, it hurt really bad, but I didn’t think that it was so serious. I never had an injury before, so… After that, people were saying, maybe it’s an ACL, and I never even knew what an ACL was; I heard it from Lexi, but I never knew what it really was. After that, I was really scared, and really sad when it turned out to be the injury.

 

How hard was it for you to be on the bench injured and watch Cal lose to George Washington in that heartbreaking way?
It’s always hard to be on the bench to watch and not be able to do anything about it. I always think, maybe I could have helped, I could have made a shot that would have won it.

 

Has the team recovered emotionally from the loss?
Yes. I think we’re getting stronger. Sometimes you have to lose to learn from it, to take the next step.

 

And speaking of recovery, now you’re learning another language—that of medical terms and of rehabilitation.
Yeah. Serious!

 

How is your rehabilitation going?
It’s getting better. It’s getting really better. I had surgery on April second. And after surgery, even though I was doing rehab every day, my leg was not bending. So when I got back from the trip, I had another surgery to clean out the scar tissue. I’ve been working on the elliptical and doing steps and activities to help with my balance. I’ve been lifting and shooting and balancing.

 

Do they have a projected return date for you?
No, I don’t know yet. I really don’t want to ask them.

It's true that N'Diaye suffered a knee injury last season.  Hopefully, she can fully recover from it to have a successful rest of the season.

The next player in the random order that I have used here for selection is Natasha Vital.

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via grfx.cstv.com

Vital begins her junior season at Cal after emerging as one of the Pac-10's top point guards as a sophomore...quick, very athletic, a great passer and understands the game...has become more vocal and a better floor leader since being thrust into big minutes as a starter for the final 23 games of her freshman year...looks to get her teammates involved first...loves the transition game and brings quickness to the Bears' backcourt...interchangeable at the one or two positions because she has a great feel for the game and can score...capable of scoring off penetration and possesses three-point range and a pull-up jumper...terrific ballhandler and has excellent court vision...averaged 21.5 ppg to help the San Francisco team claim the 2008 San Francisco Pro Am summer league title...posted 19 points, including the final four points of the game, to lead Cal to a 65-63 win over the Senegal national team during the Bears' Africa tour.

She was a big high school talent, as you might expect from somebody who is an impressive collegiate talent.  This story lays it out further:

Vital, an All-San Joaquin Athletic Association and All-Area selection, was the catalyst for the Trojans, who went 19-7 overall and won the league with an 11-1 mark. Lincoln lost to Sheldon in the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I basketball playoffs.

Vital led Lincoln in scoring (18.3 points per game) and asssists (106) and was third in rebounds (113). She registered double-digits in two categories five times and scored 20 or more points in nine games.

Her biggest performances included 32 points against Center, 29 points against Elk Grove, 26 points and 10 steals against Bret Harte, 25 points and 10 assists against Tracy and 28 points and 10 rebounds against Bear Creek.

"She's an incredibly dedicated player," Lincoln coach Maggie Smith said. "She's a very smart player. She understands things well and, as a point guard, that's important."

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via imgs.sfgate.com

Vital was the center of some controversy last year after Cal's unfortunate loss in the NCAA Tournament.

The final 12 seconds proved to be the most critical.

After Colonials guard Sarah-Jo Lawrence's layup tied the game at 53-53 with 12.1 seconds left, Bears guard Natasha Vital tried to walk the ball up and call timeout at halfcourt.

However, Vital was trapped as she crossed halfcourt and was called for a travel, giving George Washington the final possession with 5.7 seconds left.

That was all the time the Colonials (27-6) needed as Lawrence-who finished with 13 points-collected a Kimberly Beck airball and lofted it into the hoop over the outstretched arms of Cal forward Ashley Walker as time expired.

After the game, Vital and Boyle contested that Vital had not traveled.

"I thought I called timeout," Vital said.

Added Boyle: "You can look at the monitor. We checked it a few times. She didn't travel."

Frustrating end to a great season last year.  Hopefully, Cal can build off of that adversity for more success this year.

 

Next up, let's look at Lauren Grief:

Greif begins her junior season at Cal having started all 66 games of her college career...co-captain with Ashley Walker...has focused on being a more consistent outside shooter...works hard on both ends of the floor and makes people on the floor better...has a strong basketball IQ and is a calming influence on the court...vocal on the court...excels at feeding the ball into the post...talented rebounder for a guard...known for making hustle plays...unselfish but is a scoring threat when needed...played in the 2008 San Francisco Pro Am summer league...first player to verbally commit to Cal under head coach Joanne Boyle.

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via grfx.cstv.com

She discussed the team's trip to Africa here:

When we reached the airport, Rama's father and mother greeted us. Rama's dad ushered us through all the security at the airport, so that we could avoid all the lines. He clearly has a large influence here in Senegal. Rama looks just like her beautiful mother and has her father's body frame. It was an honor to meet them, and we can't wait to spend more time with them later this week.

Our hotel is quite different than a typical American hotel and even different from our Tunisian hotel. It is a traditional African hotel where the rooms are shaped like huts with thatched roofs. This clearly makes for a different experience than I am used to. Lexi and I are roommates on this trip, and we will make time to have each others backs and always keep an eye out for lions, tigers and bears...oh my!!! Well not really the bears but for sure the other two. My teammates will let you all know how the huts work out for us later this week.

It is exciting to see Rama in her element on her turf. In the few hours we spent here tonight, she showed her true leadership skills and was definitely more outspoken than usual. I can't wait to see more from her and her country this week.

Lauren Greif discusses team superstitions here:

Game-day traditions are important because some of us - and this includes me - believe that winning and losing games can depend as much on how game-day rituals go as it does on how we play on the court. You know ... how can I be expected to focus on the game if I don't have my designated game-day spandex on?

Okay, maybe that's a little extreme, but I do eat the same meal before each game (peanut butter and jelly), listen to Rascal Flatts, and always make a 3-pointer before I go to the bench before the game starts and before the second half.

As a team, we have a certain taping order with Ann, our trainer; Lex (Alexis Gray-Lawson) and Ash (Ashley Walker) have a special hand shake/salute they do when their names are announced as starters; Tasha (Vital) gets out on the court first before the game and shoots for 10 minutes with her headphones on, and of course we have an on-the-court warmup schedule.

I would tell you more of our team's little idiosyncrasies, but then I would worry that somebody would try to sabotage us ... got to protect the team and not embarrass ourselves too much!!!

The Portland Tribune, paper of record for Greif's hometown, did an article on the team's trip to Africa.  It shows the heart that these women have:

The major eye-openers for Greif were the various clinics the team put on in the town of Montasir in Tunisia, the Bopp Boys & Girls Club in Dakar and the Tatteguine Children's Grammar School, roughly an hour east of Dakar.

"The clinics were a great opportunity for us to get to know some of the kids there," Greif says. "It was great to see the boys and girls at these clinics really listening to us and really wanting to learn."

Greif says the team also brought plenty of Cal paraphernalia for the kids, including T-shirts, jerseys and shoes. Through donating their time and leaving plenty of the Cal name to be remembered by, Greif could tell the impact that she and her teammates made was significant.

"We were like rock stars when we left," she said. "They all climbed up next to the buses and said goodbye to us like they didn’t want us to leave … but we had just as good of a time as they did."

Equally as memorable for Greif, though less exciting than the clinics, was the team’s visit to the Vivre Ensemble Orphanage in Senegal.

"It was heart-wrenching," Greif says of the orphanage, "but great to be a part of. They had a good number of staff, but they were low on supplies — formulas, bottles, blankets, the most basic things."

The team brought several supplies to the orphanage, which houses more than 150 children from newborns to 6-year-olds. The majority of the children there are six months to one year old.

"All the little babies, when you picked them up, they just stared in your eyes. They were so happy to be held," Greif says.

The team was slated to spend two hours at the orphanage, but after the players arrived, they petitioned to stay longer. When they finally did leave, after six hours of playing with the children, they left behind more of their Cal apparel, including the shoes off of their own feet.

"We get so many shoes, and we’re grateful, but it means so much more to them because they were going straight onto their feet instead of into our locker. It was nice to be able to contribute," Greif says.

Greif and her team will continue to contribute, as they are devising new ways to team with their fan base to grow support for the orphanage.

Greif says the trip brought the team closer by showing them there are much bigger issues than those occurring on a basketball court.

"I think the overall trip is about appreciating what you have and what you can continue to contribute to community and world," Greif says. "All of us playing basketball at Cal are incredibly privileged, and this was about realizing that."

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via www.portlandtribune.com

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via cache.daylife.com

Here she is, discussing the NCAA Tourney last year (before the Tourney began):


 

BTW, there have been repeated mentions of this trip that the team took to Africa over the summer.  Here are some videos where you can see parts of the trip and learn more:



This one is pretty crazy.  They are enjoying some Tunisian entertainment that includes several of the players standing on top of a guy laying on a bed of nails. 


 

Ok, so now, let's take a look at how the team is doing so far.  You can see the entire schedule here.   

Date Opponent / Event Location Time / Result
11/05/08 vs. Chico State Berkeley, Calif. W, 95-51
11/09/08 vs. Vanguard Berkeley, Calif. W, 87-37
11/14/08 vs. Albany NY Berkeley, Calif. W, 63-39
11/16/08 vs. Nevada Berkeley, Calif. W, 67-53
11/21/08 vs. Rutgers TV Berkeley, Calif. W, 66-52
Paradise Jam
11/27/08 vs. South Florida St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands W, 85-55
11/28/08 vs. Texas Tech St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands W, 68-54
11/29/08 vs. Iowa St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands W, 76-43
Collier's International Classic
12/06/08 vs. Princeton Berkeley, Calif. W, 75-53
  TCU vs. Saint Louis Berkeley, Calif. 4:00 p.m. PT
12/07/08 Princeton vs. Saint Louis Berkeley, Calif. 2:00 p.m. PT
  vs. TCU Berkeley, Calif. L, 82-73
Basketball By the Bay
12/12/08 at San Jose State San Jose, Calif. W, 76-40
12/13/08 vs. Oklahoma San Jose, Calif. L, 86-75

That's what we've done so far.  Cal currently stands with a record of 10-2.  As you might expect, there are the usual beatdowns of inferior opponents.

There are 3 games of note here.  Unfortunately for Cal, we've gone 1-2 in them.

First, the Rutgers game.  Played the night before the Big Game, Cal won 66-52.   

BERKELEY, Calif. -- Alexis Gray-Lawson and Co. kept piling on the points and telling themselves the score was 0-0 to make sure they pushed even harder. That way California could withstand a Rutgers run, even though it never came.

For a team focused on finishing this season -- finishing out big games, that is -- the Golden Bears did just that.Gray-Lawson hustled all over the court on the way to 25 points, nine rebounds and four assists and No. 7 Cal pulled off the biggest home victory of fourth-year coach Joanne Boyle's tenure with a 66-52 upset of third-ranked Rutgers on Friday night.

The Bears beat their highest-ranked opponent since a 74-65 win over then-No. 2 Stanford in Berkeley on Jan. 10, 1992."Just a great game," Boyle said. "I'm so proud of the kids. ... We've talked, this year in particular, about finishing, finishing big games. That was the theme. I was telling them how proud I am of them and thinking ahead, 'Where could we be in March?'"

Ashley Walker added 16 points and 10 rebounds as Cal (3-0) won its 32nd straight non-conference game in Haas Pavilion, pushing the tempo for the entire 40 minutes against the sluggish Scarlet Knights (2-1). This was the program's most notable victory since winning at rival and then-eighth-ranked Stanford 72-57 on Feb. 4, 2007.Once the final buzzer sounded, Cal's players gathered at midcourt for a group embrace.

This Bears team was short-handed, too. Cal had said it would make game-time decisions on the status of injured centers Devanei Hampton -- the 2007 Pac-10 Player of the Year -- and Rama N'diaye as both recover from right knee surgery. Neither even dressed.

A key win for Cal.  Two of the best players for Cal didn't even play and Cal still managed to hold off one of the best teams in the nation. Perhaps the best game Cal has ever known.  Made us think that this could be a special season for Cal.  And it still might.

But the next key game puts a slight damper on those hopes.  On December 7, 2008, Cal was upset by unranked TCU, 82-73.

Texas Christian had a plan to get Ashley Walker off her game: collapse inside and make California shoot from the perimeter.

Walker still hit her jumpers. The rest of her team had a hard time.

Rachel Rentschler scored 16 of her career-high 24 points in the first half and also grabbed 10 rebounds, and TCU (No. 22 AP) handed third-ranked Cal its first loss of the season with a hard-fought 82-73 victory in the championship game of the Colliers International Classic on Sunday."

I wasn't going to get many touches in the block because they sag in there," said Walker, the Pac-10's leading scorer. "We needed our guards to step up and knock down some shots."Walker had 31 points -- one off her career high -- and 12 rebounds, reaching the 30-point mark for the third time this season, but it wasn't enough for Cal in this sloppy performance. The Golden Bears (7-1) saw their school-record 33-game home nonconference winning streak end after allowing their most points since an 87-75 loss to rival Stanford on Jan. 14, 2006.

"She's the best I've seen inside this year," TCU coach Jeff Mittie said of Walker, who went 11-for-19 from the floor. "We made them shoot 3s."Tournament MVP Helena Sverrisdottir added 17 points and a career-best 10 assists and TK LaFleur 13 points and six rebounds for the Lady Frogs (8-2), who avenged a 74-55 loss to Cal at home in Fort Worth last season.TCU bounced back after a tough defeat Friday at Fresno State to beat Princeton on Friday and then pull off this upset.

The Lady Frogs, who already beat Maryland, which was ranked No. 3 by AP at the time, to open the season, celebrated by dancing at midcourt after the final buzzer sounded.Natasha Vital added a career-high 21 points and seven rebounds for Cal, scoring on a putback with 45.7 seconds to play to pull her team within 76-73. The Golden Bears pressed full court and quickly fouled Shayla Moore, who made both free throws at 38.2 then two more with 22.5 to go.

Cal struggled to get in sync during the first half, having a tough time creating shots on offense against TCU's stingy defense and giving up key baskets on the other end. TCU came in wanting to constantly mix up its defense to keep the Bears off balance.

Some photos of the game:

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via assets.espn.go.com

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via assets.espn.go.com

 

So, that was that game.  A very frustrating result for the Cal team.  But, ultimately, just one game.  Cal roared back against SJSU, but then had to face Oklahoma.  TCU is an unranked team, but Oklahoma, similar to Rutgers, is one of the best teams in the nation.  And for a while there, Cal was handling Oklahoma.  The mantra all year long was finish finish finish finish.  After Cal lost their NCAA Tourney game last year at the last second when the opponent went on a 9-2 run to finish the game, they have focused on finish.

Unfortunately, against Oklahoma, they didn't finish.

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale had a tough time summing it up, still stunned by her team's remarkable rally. California coach Joanne Boyle broke down, emotionally spent and embarrassed.

"One of the craziest games I've ever been a part of," Coale said. "Complete role reversal from one half to the other.

"Reserve Nyeshia Stevenson hit back-to-back 3-pointers and gave Oklahoma (No. 6 ESPN/USA Today, No. 5 AP) its first lead of the game with 3:43 to play, and the Sooners made an improbable comeback from a 26-point halftime deficit to shock Cal (No. 7 ESPN/USA Today, No. 9 AP) 86-75 on Saturday night in the Basketball By The Bay Classic.Cal led by 17 points, 69-52, before Oklahoma (8-2) closed the game with a 34-6 run.Stevenson finished with 21 points and Courtney Paris had 18 points and 13 rebounds to extend her consecutive streak of double-doubles dating to her freshman season to 102 in Oklahoma's third straight victory since a loss to top-ranked Connecticut on Nov. 30.

Cal's focus this season has been on finishing. Especially after the Bears lost a heartbreaker to George Washington at the final buzzer in the second round of the NCAA tournament last season."It's the thing that we wanted to improve on," Boyle said, becoming emotional. "I told them in there, I've never as a coach lost a 30-point lead, so I obviously didn't do my job to coach to prepare them to be in that situation. That's on me. You have to have guard play at the end of the game. Our guards are good. For whatever reason they were tentative or questioning themselves. We just didn't do the easy things."Ashley Walker scored in the paint and from the perimeter, finishing with 26 points and eight rebounds in the shocking collapse by Cal (8-2).

Alexis Gray-Lawson had 16 points and nine assists and Lauren Greif added a season-high 18 points for the Golden Bears, who dominated the first half of this highly anticipated showdown between the top-10 programs and all their ties but couldn't do enough right to hold off a late Oklahoma charge.The Bears shot 64 percent in the first half only to blow it over the final 20 minutes by shooting 28 percent and committing 11 of their 18 turnovers.

Terrible second half play let Oklahoma rally from 26 down.  Rough.  But again, just one game and an early one.  Of interesting note, Oklahoma is led by the Paris sisters, who played at Piedmont.  Their brother was on the Cal men's team, their father is Bubba Paris who played for the 49ers.

This was the Bay Area return for Paris and her twin sister Ashley, who were prep stars at Piedmont only about 10 minutes from Cal's campus in Berkeley. The Bears lost out to the Sooners for the twins, who had their share of supporters in the record women's crowd of 2,636 at San Jose State University -- including their father, Bubba, a former offensive lineman with the San Francisco 49ers. Robinson, another Sooners starter, also returned to her San Jose roots.

Walker played AAU ball with the sisters and Walker and Courtney Paris bumped and pushed in the paint nearly every possession early. Cal shot 11 first-half free throws to one for Oklahoma and Coale was warned after arguing the foul disparity."We want to win. It doesn't matter if you're down by 50, or you're down by two or you're up by 20," Courtney Paris said. "Coach came in at halftime and said, 'I'm not going to coach effort.' That's something we take personal."

So, there we go.  Cal has a very difficult OOC schedule this year.  And, unfortunately, the results have not always been as we might want.  However, they don't count in the Pac10 and they are great opportunities to develop as a team.  This is perhaps a bit more aggressive than one would like, but much better than the pansy schedules Braun always seems to had.

So, there we go.  Third Wave Feminism.  Is it as important as first or second wave?  YUS!  EVEN MORE SO!  Go Bears!

I leave you with this commercial:


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