#7 Cal WBB vs #14 UCLA: Previewing The Bruins

Markel Walker and the Bruins will be looking to avoid a Bay Area sweep against the Bears. - USA TODAY Sports

It's the latest Game Of The Year Of The Week!

Last Sunday the Bears broke a multiple streaks by beating Stanford. On Thursday they got the USC monkey off their back. And now they have a chance to turn the tables a bit on a UCLA squad who has given them fits in recent years.

Admittedly, most of those fits were caused by former UCLA coach Nikki Caldwell. The Bears lost seven in a row to the Bruins at one point, before finally prevailing at Haas last year. But last year's UCLA was a team absolutely crippled by injuries. Jasmine Dixon and Atonye Nyingifa are back and healthy.

Imagine if Cal had to play last year without Reshanda Gray and Talia Caldwell. That's more or less what happened to the Bruins. So now that everybody is healthy, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that Cori Close has her group firmly in the rankings and potentially threatening for the conference crown.

Now, if you watched Stanford simply destroy UCLA on Friday night, you might be feeling pretty confident. I've been trying to fight that myself. UCLA looked completely unprepared to deal with a team like Stanford - Chiney Ogwumike got anything she wanted, the Bruins were crushed on the boards, and Stanford's shooters found plenty of space. I saw plenty of things that the Bears can hypothetically exploit. BUT. This assumes that UCLA comes out flat against Cal like they did against Stanford. They're a good, well-coached team, so I doubt it happens twice in a row.

Players to Watch

Markel Walker: On an incredibly balanced team, Walker is performing at a clear all-conference level. Consider that she's a 6'1'' forward. Then consider that she averages 13 points, 8.3 rebounds, and an absurd 5.6 assists. She's basically playing as a point forward, which is a position you usually only hear in association with absurdly talented NBA guys like Magic Johnson and LeBron James. Obviously comparing her to players like that is silly, but it gives you a sense of the versatility she brings to the floor.

Alyssia Brewer: Getting Dixon and Nyingifa back from injury was huge, but getting Brewer eligible after sitting out a year after transferring from Tennessee has been just as important. She's leading UCLA in rebounding despite playing just 24 minutes/game (gee, sound familiar, Cal fans?) and has been a solidly efficient scorer as well. She's big, she's strong, but still surprisingly quick, and our posts will have to be ready.

Our Computer Overlords Predict

RealtimeRPI.com sez: Cal 74, UCLA 59
Sagarin Predictor sez: Cal by 9.1 points

Tempo-free chart: One advantage letter equals 10+ advantage in national rankings. Two letters equals 100+. Three equals 200, etc.

Cal

UCLA

Advantage

Cal eFG% vs. UCLA eFG% Def.

46.1 (74)

37.8 (133)

C

Cal eFG% Def vs. UCLA eFG%

38.1 (146)

44.5 (122)

U

Cal Off TOV vs. UCLA Def. TOV

19.8 (24)

26.0 (67)

C

Cal Def. TOV vs. UCLA Off TOV

24.0 (122)

23.2 (147)

C

Cal RB% vs. UCLA RB%

60.2 (3)

54.9 (36)

C

Cal FT Rate Off vs. UCLA FT Rate Def

15.9 (81)

19.2 (247)

CC

Cal FT Rate Def vs. UCLA FT Rate Off

17.4 (143)

16.4 (64)

U

Cal PPPO vs. UCLA PPPD

1.006 (16)

.823 (118)

CC

Cal PPPD vs. UCLA PPPO

.788 (55)

.934 (64)

-


Interestingly, these two teams are similar in a number of ways. Both prefer to push the pace, yet both teams are very post oriented in terms of their scoring and rebounding. Their posts are athletic and can get out and run in transition with the best of them. There aren't any categories where either team has a huge advantage. Cal's biggest advantage is offense generally, as UCLA isn't elite in their ability to prevent opponents from knocking down shots. That should be good news for the Bears, who have essentially been in a shooting slump since Pac-12 play began (The Bears are, believe it or not, DEAD LAST in eFG% in the Pac-12 if you only count Pac-12 games. Tells you how good this team is at everything else.)

It's here where I'd like to point out that Cal is 24th in the nation in avoiding turnovers. Last year they were 107th, the year before 165th. Lindsay Gottlieb, everybody! Also, the players. They're pretty good too.

Keys To The Game

Aggressive on offense, aggressive on the boards: Twice in a row Cal has seen the advantage of aggression in terms of drawing fouls - the Bears have lived at the line against Stanford and USC. Granted, those shots don't always go in, but the more you get to the line the better.

UCLA has been foul prone. Now, they are perhaps the deepest team in the conference, so I don't expect foul trouble to be a huge issue for them. But if Cal can keep playing their physical style, it really wears down opponents and the Bears really seem to feast on the boards and from the line towards the end of a game.

Just make shots: Let's be honest - the difference between Cal being really good and Cal being transcendent is shooting. The Bears dominate the glass, they don't turn the ball over, they draw fouls. All they need to do is hit shots. Shooting cost them a sweep of Stanford and it allowed Colorado, Utah and USC to stay close in games that could have been easy wins.

And yet, we know this team can shoot. We watched them absolutely torch Kansas. Prior to the Stanford game, the Bears were 25th in the country in eFG%. They are completely and totally capable of making shots. If they break out of this shooting slump, the rest of the Pac-12 doesn't stand a chance.

Deal with ball pressure: UCLA really relies on turnovers, for two reasons. Obviously, their defense is much better when they force turnovers. Their field goal defense isn't great and they foul. So turning the ball over before teams can get a shot off is critical. Additionally, they love to get out and score in transition, and if you watched them against Stanford, you saw a team that can get stagnant in the half court set.

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