I knew Oregon would take a step back this year without Taylor Lilley and Micaela Cocks, but the depth of their struggles has still been surprising. The Ducks boast just three wins, all at home, and all over teams in the bottom half of the standings. Meanwhile, eight of their eleven conference losses have come by ten points or more. It’s a full-fledged rebuilding year for Paul Westhead.
Of course, Cal is now a team in the bottom half of the conference standings, so a win over Oregon isn’t anything to take for granted anymore, even playing at home. And if you were to pick a team that could punish a group of players giving less than their best effort, they’d be at the top of the list. Tonight’s game may end up being a test of effort and desire more than a test of talent and athleticism.
The Bears have won four straight games against Westhead’s Ducks, and most of the wins have been pretty convincing. A loss tonight at home, against a team on a seven game losing streak and with their best player (Nia Jackson) nursing a day-to-day injury, would be distressing. It would indicate that Cal’s malaise is much worse than even the most pessimistic fans might have guessed. So it feels strangely important for Cal to sweep this weekend, even in a lost season. At least that would mean that 2011 was an underachievement rather than a full-scale disaster.
As for a preview of what Oregon brings to the table? I’ll just quote an Oregon preview from earlier in the year:
Nia Jackson and Amanda Johnson are the two main scoring threats and it’s pretty much guaranteed that they will get their points. The key is to make sure they get their points in as inefficient a fashion as possible. Jackson also averages almost 6 assists per game, so whatever Cal can do to disrupt her game will be worthwhile. Beyond Jackson and Johnson Oregon can throw out another 7 or 8 players capable of running the floor and scoring.