#7 Cal Women's Basketball At #20 Colorado: Preview & Gamethread

Chucky Jeffery and the Buffs will be looking to avoid a home sweep at the hands of the Bay Area schools. - Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

The Bears face perhaps their second toughest road test in Pac-12 play against the suddenly upstart Buffaloes.

When: 11:00 am PT
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Video Stream: Pac-12.com
Audio Stream: Cal Bears All-Access ($$$)

I was hardly alone in my skepticism of the Colorado Buffaloes to start the year. Pac-12 coaches voted them a firm 9th in the pre-season poll, which is actually a spot higher than they finished the year before. Personnel-wise, this team just isn't very different from the group that finished last year 6-12 in conference play.

So what's different? Well, as Cal fans can attest, there's something to be said for bringing everybody back. The Buffs only lost one player from last year's rotation, and she only averaged 4 points and 4 rebounds per game. Two freshmen (Lexy Kresl and Jen Reese) are now sophomores with some experience under their belt.

But the biggest difference? The Colorado women finally have a Roberson of their own. After sitting out what would have been her true freshman season with an injury, Arielle Roberson is healthy and making a strong run at Pac-12 freshman of the year honors. She's not Colorado's best player (that title still goes to Chucky Jeffery) but it's pretty easy to see how valuable adding a player who can score in double digits while adding some help on the glass can do for a team.

If Colorado hadn't beaten Louisville, I'd be a bit skeptical of how much Colorado had actually improved. But they really took it to an excellent Louisville squad. True, that game was played at altitude in Boulder - it's possible the Buffs will struggle on the road. But today's game isn't in Berkeley, which means the Bears must be on high alert, because Colorado has already proven they can beat teams at Cal's talent level - in fact, they believe they should:

Not only did they believe they could win, they expected it. For the majority of the game, they played with a fervor that resembled that conviction. From the outset Colorado’s body language spoke volumes; they literally had the disposition of "we respect you but we don’t fear you -- we believe we are the better team."

Perhaps a humbling defeat at the hands of Stanford on Friday will deflate Colorado. Perhaps they'll come out inspired to avoid a two game losing streak. Regardless, this is probably the 2nd toughest game the Bears will play so far this year.

Players To Watch

Chucky Jeffery: Cal fans should be plenty familiar with Jeffery already. In four career games against the Bears, Jeffery has never failed to reach double digits and scored at least 16 against Cal in all three games last year. She's actually averaging fewer points/game this year, mostly because her teammates are taking more shots and her usage percentage has gone down. But make no mistake, she's still Colorado's go-to player, and the argument can be made that she's the single most well-rounded player in the Pac-12 this year. Consider that in addition to averaging double digits, she also averages 8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 4.5 steals per game? That's unbelievable versatility. I won't be concerned if Jeffery gets her points, but as much as Cal can prevent her from setting up her teammates and crashing the glass the better.

Keys to the Game

Can Cal control the glass? Sounds like a silly question, right? But last year Colorado was one of a very small handful of teams that could truly challenge Cal for rebounds, and when the teams met in Boulder, both teams pulled down 28 boards. And with the addition of Roberson, Colorado is almost certainly a better rebounding team than they were last year. Add that all up, and it means:

Don't be shocked if Cal gets outrebounded today.

Don't be shocked if Cal gets outrebounded today.

Scary.

More great team defense: I was pretty happy with the consistently strong half-court defense Cal displayed against and improved Utah team. Cal's ability to play 25-30 seconds of fundamental defense will again be tested against Colorado. The Buffs have shown an impressive ability to move the ball and spread the scoring around. Multiple players are excellent passers for their position and they nearly have four players averaging double figures. Cal probably can't win by shutting down one or two key scorers - their defense will only be as strong as the weakest link.

Bench contributions: Cal played a pretty short rotation against Utah, and it certainly wouldn't shock me to see that happen again against Colorado. But this game is a very short turnaround and it's their 2nd game at altitude. Weary legs may very well be an issue. If Cal could stretch the rotation out a little and get solid minutes from the bench it could go a long way towards keeping legs fresh for crunch time.
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