If you want to watch the Cal women play basketball this year, you're faced with a potentially difficult decision: 1. Attend every home game you can, 2. Buy Golden Bears All Access on a monthly basis ($8 a month, $32 to cover Cal's home schedule), or 3. Hope and pray that more games get picked up on TV. For that to happen we need to hope Cal keeps winning and earns a national ranking.
But for now the focus is on a very dangerous St. Marys team led by one of the elite defensive players in the country. Many may recall that last year St. Mary's gave Cal everything they could handle in the second game of the season. This time around Cal will look for a more comfortable win, but the Gaels can't be taken lightly. Hit the jump for a game preview and a recap of a solid win against Rutgers!
Cal won't see a St. Mary's team vastly different from the team they beat 68-65 last year. The Gaels return 5 of 7 players who played 92% of the minutes last year. Guards Jontelle Smith and Katie Batlin. Smith is the biggest loss, as she was St. Mary's second leading scorer, best three point threat and perhaps their best perimeter defender.
Players to Watch
But what St. Marys does have is all-everything forward Louella Tomlinson who led the team in points, rebounds, assists and established herself as the most prolific shot blocker in NCAA history. 6.5 blocks is crazy (she recorded 4 against the Bears) but it's just one facet in the game of a complete player who averaged a double double. On Friday St. Mary's defeated Washington St., despite an uncharacteristic 1-8 from the field from Tomlinson. But she still got 11 points by getting to the line, blocked another 5 shots and pulled down 18 rebounds.
Carried the load offensively against Washington St. with 24 points and 5 3-pointers. The Gaels shot 9-23 from behind the arc, and if that performance is any indication Cal may not be able to get away with a zone defense that allows open looks from three again.
Key to the game
Just one key today, because it's so howlingly obvious. Louella Tomlinson vs. DeNesha Stallworth, Talia Caldwell and Rama N'diaye. I don't know which of Cal's three bigs will guard Tomlinson, or which Cal big Tomlinson will attempt to shut down, but it should be a great battle. If Cal can find a way to get Tomlinson into foul trouble St. Mary's chances will likely fade. Also, the Gaels will rely on Tomlinson to keep things even on the board, so if Cal's bigs can beat her for position they will have a big advantage towards keeping possession of the ball.
Cal 66, Rutgers 57: Recap
When Cal showed a zone defense in their exhibition against Vanguard I assumed it was just for practice and that it would rarely, if ever, show up in the regular season. But clearly Joanne Boyle planned to play a zone the whole time as a way to play to Rutger's offensive weakness - three point shooting. For the record, I still hate zone defenses, but I can't deny that after reflecting on this game, it was remarkable effective. Cal left tons of space for Rutger's guards to spot up from three for the entire game, but luckily only Erica Wheeler (4-6 from three) punished Cal for it. Every other player combined to go 0-8 from behind the arc, and Wheeler's damage was mostly confined to the first half.
The other big impact the zone had was in terms of fouls. Rutgers played an aggressive, attacking man defense, which will tend to lead to more fouls. A zone will generally lead to less fouls. That, combined with some slightly home-town friendly calls led to Rutgers getting called for 17 fouls to Cal's 10. Four of Rutger's starters picked up 3 or more fouls, and rather early in the game. I'm pretty sure this impacted the quality of their defense, as they were no longer able to be as aggressive as earlier in the game. It isn't a coincidence that Cal went on a 15-2 run midway through the 2nd half with nearly every Rutgers starter either on the bench or playing with serious foul trouble. Plus Cal shot and made twice as many free throws as the Scarlet Knights.
For a chance of pace the stars of the game was Cal's sophomore back court duo. Eliza Pierre and Layshia Clarendon combined for 26 points, 8 assists, 4 steals and only 3 turnovers - an excellent performance before you take Rutger's reputation for defensive excellence into account. Pierre was everywhere on the court - her attacking drives drew fouls and opened space on offense, and her utter fearlessness in the lane against players significantly bigger and taller than her never fails to impress me. Layshia did a great job of picking her spots, never forcing anything and hitting her jumpers. And both played nearly the entire game (71 minutes combined), providing the needed steady presence in Cal's backcourt.
The performance of Cal's freshmen didn't jump out at you, but neither played poorly either. It looks like for now Lindsay Sherbert will be filling the role of a three point sniper who stretches the defense and doesn't make mistakes - all 6 of her shots were from behind the arc. Afure Jemerigbe was significantly more aggressive, and she had a few nice drives. The fact that both hit key three pointers during the last 10 minutes of the game is a solid sign for the rest of the season.
All in all an excellent start to the season, and a good win against a solid opponent. Go Bears!