After an absurd turnaround allowed Cal to escape Boulder with a win, the Bears travel 1,204 feet lower to Salt Lake City to take on Utah at the Jon M. Huntsman Center. AND IT’S ON TV!
The Utes enter with a record of just 8-7, 1-3 in conference, which is somewhat disappointing for a team voted to finish 5th in the preseason conference poll. Admittedly, Utah doesn’t have any truly bad losses – Colorado and Washington St. all look like decent or better conference teams – but they don’t have any good wins either. The Utes have only defeated two teams with a winning record, and I don’t think Idaho St. and Washington are expected to make much noise.
Utah is led by a pair of sophomore forwards, Michelle Plouffe and Taryn Wicijowski. Cal fans who saw the Bears defeat Utah by 10 in the WNIT two years ago may remember Wicijowski and now-senior guard Janita Badon, who combined to score 30 of Utah’s 54 points in that game. The 6’3’’ Wicijowski missed last season with an injury but has returned to pair with 6’4’’ Plouffe to form an imposing front court that averages 27 points and 17 rebounds per game.
Tempo Free Chart
Our computer overlords predict: Sagarin Predictor: Cal by 3.5 points
Chart concept borrowed from MGoBlog, all stats courtesy of wbbstate.com and are accurate as of 1/15. Stat glossary found here. One letter indicates 10 place advantage in national rankings, two letters indicate 100 place advantage, three indicates 200 place advantage, etc.
|Category||Cal Ranking||Utah Ranking||Advantage|
|Cal eFG% vs. Utah Def eFG%||123||21||UU|
|Cal Def eFG% vs. Utah eFG%||113||51||U|
|Cal TO% vs. Utah Def TO%||103||335||CC|
|Cal Def TO% vs. Utah TO%||190||39||UU|
|Cal Reb% vs. Utah Reb%||2||162||CC|
|Cal FTR vs. Utah Def FTR||125||97||U|
|Cal Def FTR vs. Utah FTR||128||151||C|
|Cal O-PPP vs. Utah D-PPP||43||74||C|
|Cal D-PPP vs. Utah O-PPP||76||60||U|
The stat chart actually indicates a very even game, but there’s one key fact missing: strength of schedule. Utah has played the 104th most difficult schedule, compared to Cal’s 34th most difficult. Still, Utah does enough things well (and Cal is shaky enough on the road) to make this a dangerous game.
What the Utes are is disciplined. They shoot the ball well, they don’t turn the ball over, and they make shots tough for their opponent. What they don’t do is force turnovers or rebound particularly well. Considering their frontline height, it’s a bit of a surprise. But when you consider that Plouffe has attempted 54 threes – 2nd most on the team – it perhaps indicates that she’s not your classic 6’4’’ inside bruiser constantly fighting for rebounds.
Keys to the game:
1. Take good shots - Utah is going to slow this game to a crawl, which makes every possession and shot that much more important. Cal can't afford to waste scoring chances this afternoon.
2. Great defense from the bigs - It's about Plouffe and Wicijowski for the Utes, and they might present some matchup challenges. Plouffe's ability to step back and hit 3s means she must be defended outside. If Cal can lock them down inside and out the Bears will likely cruise.
3. Absolutely dominate the glass - True, this is Cal's key every game. But it seems particularly important against a good shooting team that defends well. Per usual, Cal will likely require offensive rebounds to score consistently. Cal 'only' outrebounded Utah by 9 in the WNIT two years ago, so a dominant game is not a given.