At Haas Pavilion, at 7:00 p.m. this evening, the Cal women's basketball team will play what may be the most important game in the history of the program. The Bears have chance to stake a claim on their first-ever conference championship, earn a top 5 ranking, and even get into the discussion for a #1 tournament seed. AND YOU NEED TO BE THERE!
Eliza Pierre handles the ball during the Bears' 70-43 thrashing of George Washington.
The Cal women have played other important games, of course. There was the 2007 win at Maples, that got the Cal program onto the national map. The 2009 win over Stanford at Haas was huge. The NCAA tournament games in 2009 and 2012 were all important. And, of course, there was the 1896 Cal-Stanford game, which was the first women's intercollegiate sporting event in American history. But on Tuesday night, the Bears have a chance to become one of the top teams in the nation, for the first time since the 1890s.
The #7 ranked Bears are 12-1 on the season, their only loss coming on the road to #3 Duke. This is the best start in school history. They have blown out most of their opponents, and pulled off a convincing 9-point win over #19 Kansas and a 4-point road win against #20 Colorado. Meanwhile, Stanford suffered a humiliating 61-35 loss to UConn, which broke their 82-game home winning streak, and dropped them from #1 down to #4 (and they dropped further this week, down to #5). Will the Cardinal still be reeling from being blown out at home on national television? Or will they come in full of determination to erase the memory of their humiliation? At the very least, Cal's brilliant second year coach, Lindsay Gottlieb, will have plenty of film to watch to find those Stanford weaknesses.
So, how exciting is this team? Check out these amazing players:
Spectacular point guard #15 Brittany Boyd:
Team leader, guard #23 Layshia Clarendon, who plays 35-40 minutes a game, and who put up 28 points against #19 Kansas:
6'3" forward, #21 Reshanda Gray, here grabbing her own rebound for a put-back:
Guard #2 Afure Jemerigbe, here with an acrobatic basket:
Rebounder extraordinaire, forward #25 Gennifer Brandon, who has posted six double-doubles in the Bears' first 11 games:
Center, #33 Talia Caldwell, another great rebounder, who led the team with 19 points against George Washington:
In fact, the Bears are incredibly deep team, considering that they only have 10 active players on the roster. At least nine of those players are major contributors, with senior guard #4 Eliza Pierre having by far her best season, guard #30 Mikayla Lyles hitting threes when needed, and forward #40 Justine Hartman showing signs of fulfilling her promise has the highest rated women's basketball recruit in Cal history. The tenth player, guard #5 Avigiel Cohen, has seen limited playing time after a serious knee injury, but has looked good when she is on the floor.
And these Bears play some good defense, leading to equally good things like transition baskets, this one by Layshia Clarendon:
Most of all, second-year head coach Lindsay Gottlieb has inspired the Bears and their fans. Here she is thanking the fans at the end of the Kansas game, and asking that we fill Haas to give her team the support they need . . . and deserve:
The Bears are coming off a successful weekend road trip against Utah, which was 9-2, and #20 Colorado, which was 11-0. Because of the ridiculous new Pac-12 schedule (more about that in a minute), the Bears have to play three games in three different cities in the space of five days -- against teams with a combined record of 31-3. Since both Cal and Stanford swept their road trips to the mountain schools, their game on Tuesday night is absolutely huge.
The new Pac-12 schedule has cheated the Bears out of the opportunity for a traditional high-energy weekend Cal-Stanford home game. In its infinite wisdom, the conference has mandated that all the women's rivalry games be played twice in the same week. This is to shorten the season and allow the women's Pac-12 tournament to be played a week earlier than the men's tournament. And, of course, it is Stanford who gets the weekend home game on January 13, leaving the biggest game of the season in Berkeley stuck on a Tuesday night.
I will spare you my tirade on the stupidity of the Pac-12 schedule. Instead, I will just point out how incredibly important it is for Cal fans to turn out en mass at Haas on Tuesday. Stanford has been handed a big advantage by getting to have a large crowd at their Sunday home game. Cal fans need to be sure that our women get the same advantage, even though the game is on a Tuesday.
This really may be the greatest Cal women's basketball team ever. Let's get out there and support them against the furd!