If the national polls are to be believed, #16/17 Rutgers represents the most difficult non-conference game for the Bears by a significant margin. Rutgers is already the highest ranked team the non-con schedule, but they're also the only ranked team that will be a true road game for the Bears. Making matters worse, the Scarlet Knights make it a habit to not lose when they play in Piscataway. Last year Rutgers only lost one home game - to UConn.
Having said that, there are reasons for optimism. Obviously Cal beat Rutgers somewhat convincingly in Berkeley last year, 66-57. And Rutgers will be dangerously thin inside due to a shoulder injury to 6'2' forward Chelsey Lee. Lee 'only' averaged 8.5 points last year, but she led the team in rebounding (an important skill when facing Cal!) and played heavy minutes.
The loss of Lee likely means that true freshman Christa Evans will have to step up, or else Rutgers is going to have to play a four guard lineup. Vivian Stringer brought in a spectacular recruiting class that featured four prospects rated four stars or higher (and two five-star players), but they are all guards or wings and may not be able to replace what Lee brings to the team - at least not immediately.
Hit the jump for 3 keys to the game!
Keys to the game
1. Pound the ball inside
Get the ball to Talia Caldwell and company in a position to do damage. Monique Oliver is an excellent post player, but she's one of only two players on the Scarlet Knight roster taller than 6'0'' If Cal can get her in foul trouble Rutgers will be in trouble. And if Cal can get the ball inside our posts should be able to get shots off and get offensive rebounds. That's typically the key to Cal's offense anyway, but today it looks to be our opponent's key weakness
2. Excellent perimeter defense
While Rutgers is thin inside, they have an impressive collection of guard talent. Wing April Skyes and point guard Khadijah Rushdan are both excellent players who can score enough to make up for any lack of interior production. And behind them are multiple blue chip true freshmen hungry to make their mark. Whomever is playing - Layshia Clarendon, Eliza Pierre, Brittany Boyd, Lindsay Sherbert - today is a day for spectacular perimeter defense. Prevent penetration, bother passers, disrupt.
3. Calm, collected passing
Rutgers under Stringer have been renowned for their pressure defense. Last year they lacked the depth to really unleash that defense against Cal full time. But with that stellar 5-player incoming recruiting class Stringer again feels like she has the depth to really attack on defense. That means that our ball handlers need to have good games. I don't necessarily mean a ton of assists, just not a mess of turnovers. If Cal keeps the number of turnovers below 15 it will be an excellent sign.