The Battle Of The Bay: Cal vs. Stanford, Round One

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

In terms of national rankings, this has to be the biggest Cal/Stanford women's basketball game in the history of the rivalry. If that doesn't justify a wonky 1,000 word preview, I don't know what does!

When the season began, it was pretty easy to circle January 8th and January 13th on the schedule. It's pretty easy to circle Cal's games against Stanford every single year. But still - both sides have lived up to their end of the bargain. UConn defeat aside, Stanford has an unbelievable resume including wins over Baylor, Tennessee and South Carolina. Duke defeat aside, Cal has taken care of business in impressive fashion. By every measure both objective and subjective, this is a top 10 match-up worth getting excited about.

It's premature to assume with 100% certainty that these games will decide the conference crown if one team sweeps - UCLA is too good to be discounted, and it appears that the Pac-12 has improved enough that neither team can take the rest of the schedule for granted. But if either team were to take both games it would represent a very steep climb. The loser would have to hope that the winner drops three conference games while the loser wins out. Doesn't sound especially likely, does it?

Which brings us to the unavoidable weirdness: playing Stanford twice in one week. When that little wrinkle was first announced, the immediate fear from both sides was an injury that would leave one team short-handed for both games. Unfortunately, it looks possible that such an issue will impact Stanford. Toni Kokenis played just 10 minutes against Colorado before suffering an apparent concussion, and did not appear against Utah. News articles indicate she was held out as ‘a precaution,' which puts her availability against Cal firmly up in the air.

Kokenis has done enough against Cal in her career for Cal fans to know how critical she is for the Cardinal. She averaged nearly 17 points per game last year's three match-ups, and although her minutes are down this year she has played at least 30 minutes against every ranked team on Stanford's schedule. Without her Stanford's backcourt is Amber Orrange and lots of question marks.

Players To Watch

Chiney Ogwumike: Duh. She barely needs an introduction, as this is now the 5th year in a row we've watched Cal face an Ogwumike. Last year the question was whether or not you should double team Nneka and risk giving Chiney too much room. Is there any question that Chiney warrants a double team whenever she gets the ball anywhere near the basket?

She's going to get her points. She's scored at least 15 in every game this year, and at least 18 in every competitive game. She's going to get her rebounds. She's probably going to play 40 minutes and she never really gets in foul trouble. I don't want to say that it's impossible to stop her, but . . . let's just say that slowing down her teammates seems like a more viable strategy. I'm just thankful there's only one player virtually guaranteed to score 20 points rather than two.

Amber Orrange: If Kokenis is out that places quite a bit of pressure on Orrange to make Stanford's offense go. And (by Stanford's lofty standards) she's been a touch inconsistent. One day she'll have 7 turnovers against South Carolina, the next day she'll have 6 assists, 2 turnovers and 14 points against Tennessee. Later, she'll record zero points and assists against UConn, then 14 points and 6 assists against Colorado.


I don't want to say that she's the fulcrum that will decide the game - after all, Stanford still survived against South Carolina. But if Cal is going to win, it probably means that the Bear defense gives Orrange fits.

Our Computer Overlords Predict

Realtime RPI: Stanford 63, Cal 62
Sagarin Predictor: Stanford by 3.92

Tempo Free Chart

National rankings are in parenthesis. A team earns one letter for a 10+ national ranking advantage, two letters for 100+, three letters for 200+ etc. For an explanation of the statistics reference below, read this.

Cal

Stanford

Advantage

Cal eFG% vs. Stanford eFG% Def

49.5 (25)

32..0 (6)

S

Cal eFG% Def vs. Stanford eFG%

37.7 (138)

51.8 (9)

SS

Cal Off TOR% vs. Stanford Def TOR%

21.6 (83)

16.0 (344)

CCC

Cal Def. TOR% vs. Stanford Off TOR%

25.0 (98)

18.3 (8)

S

Cal RB% vs. Stanford RB%

60.7 (3)

55.3 (37)

C

Cal FT Rate Off vs. Stanford FT Rate Def

15.4 (112)

12.3 (10)

SS

Cal FT Rate Def vs. Stanford FT Rate Off

16.6 (111)

14.2 (167)

C

Cal PPPO vs. Stanford PPPD

1.025 (13)

.770 (46)

C

Cal PPPD vs. Stanford PPPO

.764 (39)

1.068 (6)

S


Pretty, pretty even. For what it's worth, by RPI Stanford has played the toughest schedule in the country. But Cal's not far behind, with the 5th toughest in the country. By next Monday they both might be 1-2. These are two battle tested teams with limited weaknesses.

Stanford's one obvious weakness is that they don't force turnovers, by that's almost by design. They do force bad shots, and they never foul - their defensive philosophy is all about discipline and assignments, not about aggressive risk taking.

Cal's biggest weakness is field goal percentage defense. I'd say that Cal's half court defense looked as good as it's looked all year on the mountain road trip, which is hopefully a good sign. Cal also has a disadvantage in terms of drawing fouls, but I try not to put too much stock in that category since it's dependent on how the refs are feeling any particular day.

In aggregate? Both teams have elite offenses and near-elite defenses. Can Cal pull down enough boards and force enough turnovers to offset Stanford's shooting advantage? I sure hope so.

Keys To The Game

3 point shooting: Taylor Greenfield, Bonnie Samuelson, and to a lesser extent Joslyn Tinkle are all capable of getting hot from behind the arc, but all three are just as capable of going ice cold. All three are 6'3'' forwards, which means that our posts may have to get out and guard them. When Cal took Stanford into OT last year the Cardinal hit just 3-20 from deep. When Stanford ran away with it at Haas they hit 8-20. You'd better believe those extra 15 points made a big difference. If Stanford is making their threes it will be nearly impossible for Cal to win.

Ideally, Cal keeps close to their shooters and prevents open looks. But a garden-variety bad shooting night would be just as welcome.

Play offense like Cal did against Kansas: And by that I mean calm, poised and patient. I don't mean to imply that Stanford has a defense that's similar to Kansas, because Stanford's is much better. But if Cal brings the type of offensive effort that they had against the Jayhawks they'll stand a great chance of beating Stanford. Consider the point above that Stanford doesn't force turnovers. That means if Cal plays calmly, they'll have 30 seconds each time down the court to work their sets, find their shots, and score points. We know they can do it, even against a team as disciplined as the Cardinal.

No Nneka = Cal rebounds? In three games last year, Cal had two more rebounds than Stanford. The rebounding battle was essentially a draw. But Cal can't win without controlling the boards. The good news is that Nneka and her 30 rebounds against Cal in 2012 are gone. That doesn't necessarily mean that the Bears will dominate the glass, but it opens up a window of possibility. It will have to happen to beat Stanford.

In 2009 a dramatic January win over #9 Stanford helped propel #11 Cal to the greatest year in their history. A win this week could do the same. 7:00 tonight, you need to be at Haas Pavilion or in front of a TV.

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