Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE
#4 Duke is on everybody's minds. But hopefully the Bears are focused on the Old Dominion Monarchs, who carry a perfect record of their own into tonight's game.
When: 4:00 pm PT
Video Stream: ODU official site ($$$)
Audio Stream: Cal All-Access ($$$)
Possible Free Radio info - check out this BI thread
So, how good is Old Dominion? Your best guess is as good as mine. The Monarchs weren't a good team last year - in fact, they were downright bad. But that's out of character for what used to be probably the finest small-conference program in women's basketball. As recently as 2008 the Monarchs were 31-4 with a Sweet 16 appearance. They owned the Colonial Athletic Association every year, and even when their streak ended they still finished near the top.
But last year they struggled all the way to an 8th place finish in the CAA and a 11-21 record - a shocking fall for a team that had won 30 games just 4 years ago. To be fair, it was ODU's first year without coaching legend Wendy Larry on the sidelines after she retired after 25 years on the bench. She was replaced by Karen Barefoot, who received her first head coaching job at the age of 22. Wow. After a rough first transition year she's brought in a solid recruiting class and has ODU undefeated through four games, so it's entirely possible that she's poised to have the Monarchs back atop the CAA. (And, next year, Conference USA. Stupid conference realignment.)
Of course, ODU's four wins have come over a collection of teams that wouldn't be described as particularly impressive. True, Virginia Tech is an ACC team . . . that finished 7-23 last year and scored just 29 points against Michigan State earlier this year. A murderer's row it isn't. But every single win has been a blowout and both home wins came by 23 points or more. The Monarchs haven't been messing around and that means that Cal can't mess around either.
Players to Watch
Jackie Cook: The senior guard is averaging 18.8 points to start the year, a big leap in production from last year. She's taken over the burden on offense by shooting lights out from 3 and by getting to the line, which is a nice combo. If you play off her to keep her out of the lane she'll nail a 3, and if you play too tight she can get by you into the lane to draw fouls . . . or at least, that's what she's done so far. Hopefully facing a much tougher Cal defense slows down her torrid early season pace.
Shae Kelly: ODU's leading rebounder is an athletic, active wing, and she's probably ODU's most complete, versatile player. She's a bit turnover prone, but she can score, rebound and defend. Going up against Cal's posts will be tough for her, but she could cause headaches for Cal with her quickness on defense.
Keys to the Game
Break down a tough defense: As of Thursday night, ODU is leading the nation in points allowed per possession. So, arguably, they have the best defense in the country. Now, that's obviously not a reflection of reality considering their weak schedule. But the Monarchs play at an average pace and have still not allowed an opponent to score more than 51 points in a game. That means something. At the very least we know that they've forced 25 turnovers/game with the help of a tough full court press defense, which seems to be a theme for this season.
I fully expect Cal to score points, but it will be a good test for the offense and hopefully a good warm up for Duke's full court press.
Get the post offense going: ODU doesn't have any rotation player taller than 6'2'' and a number of their posts will have a heavy size disadvantage. Cal's bigs should have a constant match-up advantage inside. Double-doubles ahoy!
Lots of ball pressure: ODU has young point guards, and the entire offense has been turnover prone. This is a team vulnerable to pressure, whether in the half-court or full-court set. Even if it doesn't result in turnovers it should hopefully be enough to disrupt their offensive rhythm if they don't have a point guard that can dictate a possession.