It’s the end of separation weekend in the Pac-10, as USC, Cal, Arizona St. and Arizona all fight to pull themselves above the fray and make a run at 3rd place in the Pac-10 after Stanford and UCLA. If Cal can finish the desert sweep and UCLA knocks off USC tomorrow that would make the Bears the clear winner of the weekend, with a 1.5 game lead over the 4th place Trojans and a 2 game lead over the 5th place Devils.
It’s generally unwise to assume that the NCAA is sure to give a certain amount of bids to a conference, and to then assume that being above a team in the standings means that you’re also above them in the at-large race. But if Cal did win today they would have a combined 5-0 record over USC, ASU and Arizona, in addition to an advantage in the standings. It’s about as good a position as I could have imagined after the Washington road trip.
So this game, along with a trip to L.A. in 2 weeks constitutes Cal’s two best chances to impress the selection committee and separate themselves from their conference rivals. Every game from here on out not against UCLA or Stanford is likely a must win for the NCAA.
I’m not sure what to expect today against the Sun Devils. For one, ASU was surprisingly competitive against Stanford on Thursday – the same Stanford that beat ASU by 47 points in Palo Alto. And they did that without Dymond Simon, their point guard and leading scorer. It’s entirely possible that Simon will be cleared to play against the Bears as she recovers from concussion symptoms.
Which ASU team will show up? The team that got blitzed by the Cardinals, lost to the Bears by double digits and lost at home to Washington St.? Or the Sun Devils that played Stanford tough and beat USC on the road? I haven’t the slightest idea. I do know that if Simon plays she immediately becomes the focus of Cal’s defense. Eliza Pierre and co. shut her down in Berkeley to the tune of just 6 points on 3-12 shooting. If she’s going to have that kind of night again ASU would be better off with Simon getting another day of rest and recovery.
It’s Becca Tobin and Kimberly Brandon that have me worried. ASU has the potential to control a game from the inside the way Cal can with Talia Caldwell and DeNesha Stallworth. The pressure will be on Cal’s bigs to play good interior defense and to win the rebounding battle. Do that and I don’t think the Devils have enough offense to win, even at home. But if they do get rolling, or if Simon is healthy and ready to redeem herself against Cal then this game could ruin a so far perfect road trip.
This is the game that could define the season. Go out there and get it Bears!