I think the thing I have been really proud about my teams in the past is I think that everyone has said they work hard. We have always been a talented team, but more so we have always worked hard. We don't have an identity this year, 12 games in. And we are a passive team right now and it is really hurting us. They need to compete. We don't have a consistent competitiveness about us just yet.
I don’t recall Joanne Boyle ever sounding quite so frustrated in a post-game interview. I’d be interested in seeing footage of her answers because reading this quote, it strikes me as a coach struggling to come up with answers that would explain a 33 point home loss. Thanks to her own success, gone are the days when Cal was expected to meekly submit to Stanford’s will, which makes Sunday’s game a sobering spectacle for all involved.
Everyone I talked to at the game were uniformly blown away at how good Stanford was and how completely they dominated the game. Granted, it’s only one game but I came away thinking that this was the best Stanford team I’ve watched since I started closely following women’s basketball in 2007-08. And as the game wore on it became increasingly clear that beyond simply being more talented and deeper, Cal also matches up poorly with Stanford.
In the past Cal could turn the Battle of the Bay into a rugby scrum, and Stanford would generally oblige. It was Jayne Appel and Kayla Pedersen vs. Ashley Walker and Devanei Hampton and both sides would spend 40 minutes exchanging body blows in a low scoring slugfest filled with fouls, loose balls, flying bodies, and sharp elbows. Sure, it was ugly basketball, but it leveled the playing field.
But this year, with only three players taller than 6’0’’, compared to Stanford’s seven. The Bears just didn’t have the bodies and the fouls to ugly up the game. And Stanford’s height advantage took away Cal’s other calling card – rebounding. The Bears entered the game seventh in the country in rebounding margin. Stanford proceeded to outrebound the Bears by 23, a truly astounding number that best illustrates Coach Boyle’s intensity and work ethic complaints.
Two plays defined the game and the challenges Cal faces against Stanford, and not coincidentally both plays involved 6’0’’ Jeanette Pohlen, who has exploded offensively this year as (thankfully) a senior. Layshia Clarendon (5’9’’) and Eliza Pierre (5’7’’) had to deal with Pohlen on both ends of the court and it generally didn’t turn out well. On one possession midway through the first half Layshia came off a screen and came open for a mid-range jumper – the type of shot she usually nails. But Pohlen came surging towards her and Clarendon unnecessarily rushed the shot and clanked it well short. Pohlen wasn’t close to blocking it, but her presence alone was enough to bother Clarendon’s normal shooting.
Meanwhile Pierre, one of the best on-ball defenders in the country, got the unenviable task of stopping Pohlen on offense. It was a battle to behold, easily the best part of an otherwise depressingly clinical rout. Pierre ran herself ragged in the first half chasing and bothering Pohlen, and Pohlen utterly refused to back down. At one point Pohlen zigzagged through the lane and went up for a layup. Somehow, despite giving up 5 inches, Pierre made an incredible block . . . and Pohlen used her 5 extra inches to pluck the deflection out of the air and easily lay it back in for the basket. Pierre did everything right and made a phenomenal play and it still wasn’t enough.
In the Q&A sessions with Rule of Tree and C&R I said that Cal has to relearn how to beat Stanford and because Cal will play Stanford to open and close conference play, they can use both games as a measuring stick to see how far they have come over the season. Well, based on Sunday's game there's lots of room to get better. I believe that the competitiveness of Pac-10 women's basketball has taken a big step forward this year, and Cal will not be getting any breaks with the Arizona schools up next on the schedule. I still believe that this is a team that can surprise, but you get the sense that they no longer believe they can compete with the likes of Stanford, Texas A&M and UCLA. I hope my sense is wrong.