Welcome to the first addition of CGB's weekly women's basketball update. Every Tuesday we'll look back at the week that was for Joanne Boyle and the Lady Bears.
Many years of Cal fandom tends to breed a certain amount of cynicism. As much as I try to stay positive and enjoy following my Alma Mater, sometimes the results make me come to the conclusion that God does in fact hate the University of California. And the proof frequently manifests itself when the Golden Bears are matched up against teams that hail from Los Angeles. Last year a late season loss at UCLA cost Cal a chance at a share of the Pac-10 crown with a Stanford team that has been more dominant than USC in football. Then, Cal lost a crushing game to USC in the Pac-10 tournament that helped knock the Bears down to a 4 seed in the same region as UConn, Destroyers of Dreams, Crushers of Hope.
First you disallow that Ashley Walker is awesome, and now you let USC win on a buzzer-beating bank shot? Why does Joanne Boyle's sideline fashion so anger you, Yahweh?
Cal fell at UCLA by a score of 57-46, and on a heart-breaking buzzer beater to USC, 67-64. Now, with a sub-.500 record, two painful losses and an 0-3 road trip from hell to start the Pac-10 season, my job is to convince you that this is an exciting, fun team that is absolutely worth cheering for. Hit the jump and see if my powers of persuasion can convince you to pay attention to Lexi Gray-Lawson and her band of merry Freshmen.
So why should you watch this team? Because there's value in watching something from the beginning. Cal is playing six freshman, and five of them are averaging 17 minutes a game or more. If you follow men's basketball, think back to what you thought about Jerome Randle when he was playing as a freshman under Ben Braun. Did you think he would be averaging nearly 20 points a game as the indispensible floor leader of the Pac-10 favorites? If you're more of a football fan, think of your excitement when you saw Jahvid Best burst into the flat for the first time against Tennessee for a huge gain, and you knew he was going to do amazing things as a Bear. Watching young athletes develop is one of the best parts of college fandom.
The women's team is at the beginning of that story. They're talented, already a good team despite some tough results against a shockingly brutal schedule. But they can become great, maybe even by the end of this year. You can see it when Layshia Clarendon blows past a perimeter defender for a quick layup. You can see it when DeNesha Stallworth calmly accepts an entry pass and muscles past a defender. You can see it when Eliza Pierre shows off impressive lateral speed while she guards the opposing team's high-scoring guard. Are there going to be games with questionable shot selection, defensive lapses, and painful turnovers? Absolutely. And yet, every single freshman has shown flashes of spectacular potential, and some are even starting to fully realize that potential. Isn't that something you want to follow from the start?
Now, for some weekly features!
Stat chart vs. USC and UCLA
Of particular interest to me will be tracking minutes as we start to get an idea of how Joanne Boyle will use the freshmen. At this point it's clear that Clarendon and Stallworth will be getting heavy minutes. After that it may be matchup dependant (for example, Brandon saw 23 minutes vs. UCLA but only 5 vs. USC). Lauren Greif has had some tough shooting performances this year and has seen her minutes diminish as the season goes along. Brenna Heater suffered and injury that kept her out of a few games, and that may have slowed her development. Additionally, she has a big problem picking up quick fouls (she averages around 10 fouls for every 40 minutes on the floor) and consequently cannot stay on the court.
Player of the Game vs. UCLA: Layshia Clarendon (guard)
In an ugly offensive game, Clarendon was the one spark for the Bears on offense. She was the only player who took a large number of shots that came close to 50% shooting and she dished out 4 assists to boot, meaning that she played a role in nearly half of the points that Cal scored that night. Plus, she pulled down 8 boards, a testament to her instinct and speed.
Player of the Game vs. USC: DeNesha Stallworth, forward/center
Cal lost a painful, gut punch of a game to USC and I almost wish I had paid the USC Athletic Department 10 dollars just so I could have seen Stallworth's 30 point outburst. Cal fell asleep to start the 2nd half and USC threatened to run away with the game, but DeNesha put the Bears on her back and scored bucket after bucket down the stretch. From the sounds of it DeNesha is putting together talent and poise, and as a freshman that should be a scary thought to the rest of the conference.
Cal player of the week: Alexis Gray-Lawson, guard
With all of the freshman talk, it would be extremely remiss to not talk about Lexi. Despite some struggles, nobody can deny that she is the heart and soul of this team. On the LA toad trip she led the team in minutes, points (on 47% shooting), rebounds, steals, and hit what sounded like a brilliant, game tying 3 pointer. Her injury troubles denied her more playing time with Cal's heralded 'savior class,' but the spectacular six/seven are reaping the rewards of having a veteran presence on the team.
What's Next: Washington (8-6, 3-1) @ Cal, Washington St. (5-10, 0-4) @ Cal
Two games that Cal can, and perhaps should win in the friendly confines of Haas Pavilion. It's tough to gauge how impressive Washington's early Pac-10 success is now that Arizona St. is in freefall, but the Huskies are undoubtedly a dangerous team. A home sweep and Cal is right back in the middle of the conference standings.
For a look at Washington's early Pac-10 victories, check out these two posts from SBnation's Swish Appeal, a women's basketball blog doing excellent work following all kinds of Pac-10 action that you'd never hear about otherwise (Some may be shocked to learn that there are, in fact, 9 other teams in the Pac-10 not named Stanford!) Another treat from Swish Appeal: The only source for advanced, tempo free women's basketball stats in their Pac-10 preview, a post I've gone back to numerous times for opponent scouting purposes.