With their 37th game of the season and 3rd and final senior day the Cal women's basketball season will finally come to a close today against the Miami Hurricanes (22-13). The Bears and Hurricanes have both breezed through the WNIT relatively unchallenged, but the two teams have ridden very different strengths to the final. While Cal has found success focusing on defense and rebounding, Miami has been winning behind two elite scorers and impressive three point shooting - they've averaged nine made 3 pointers in the last four games!
The Hurricanes sport an ugly looking 4-10 ACC conference record, but that record is a bit deceptive. The Hurricanes lost four overtime games and five other games by seven points or less. Swing four out of nine of those games and the Hurricanes are 8-6 and almost certainly in the NCAAs. Miami appears to be an impressively unlucky team that has turned things around in the WNIT.
Cal's defensive game plan will start and end with sophomores Riquna Williams and Shenise Johnson. They average 19.6 and 19.0 points per game, and based on what I heard when I listened to their game against Michigan they're willing to shoot the ball from just about anywhere. Williams in particular shoots tons of three pointers - she has more 3 point attempts than every Hurricane but one has total attempts. Her 35% rate from downtown isn't especially scary, but she's been shooting better in the WNIT and Cal needs to keep her from getting hot. Despite being a forward Johnson does more ball handling and is a more versatile player. She leads the team in rebounds, assists and steals and will be an extremely difficult defensive assignment for whoever Coach Boyle picks for the role.
|eFG%||opp eFG%||ORB%||opp ORB%||TOV%||opp TOV%||FTA/FGA||opp FTA/FGA|
The stats indicate a pretty evenly matched game. As always Cal's opponent has a sizable advantage shooting the ball and the Bears are a better rebounding team. Miami's defense is solid in terms of opponent eFG%, but the Hurricanes really excel at forcing turnovers - their opponents average over 20 a game.
So with all of this info here are various matchups, thoughts, and keys to the game:
-The big key will obviously be containing Williams and Johnson. Of Miami's other threats, Diane Barnes scores 9.7 a game and shoots a high percentage. After that are a bunch of players that aren't the best shooters - in the range of 41-42 eFG%. Every shot not taken by Williams, Johnson or Barnes is a victory for the Bears.
-Cal has a slight but significant height advantage pretty much across the board. There's no particular reason to suspect that Cal's rebounding advantage will evaporate.
-Miami's ability to force turnovers concerns me. The Bears have had much better ball security in the 2nd half of the season, and this game will be the final test of that improvement. If you ignore the insane traveling fiasco against ISU the Bears have taken care of the ball very well in each game in the WNIT except for UC Davis - not coincidentally the closest Cal came to losing.
-The not so secret advantage? Miami has to fly about 3,000 miles to play a road game. The Hurricanes aren't unfamiliar with the road - they've taken trips to the west coast and northeast already this year and their last two NIT games have been on the road. That's tough.