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Update: Cal Women's Basketball Defeats Yale + New Mexico Recap

The Bears overcame a shocking slew of turnovers by dominating the paint and playing stifling defense to record an ugly but effective 64-41 win.  Cal's attack was led by the twin inside presence of DeNesha Stallworth and Talia Caldwell, who combined for 31 points and 17 rebounds.  Caldwell in particular had a spectacular game - she didn't miss a shot from the floor, drew a number of fouls and was a constant monster on the boards.  The play of both big was critical because Rama N'Diaye was unavailable due to illness, leaving Cal with just two natural post players.

Despite the win the story of the game was turnovers.  Cal gave the ball away a stunning 29 times, and every player that entered the game coughed the ball up at least once.  The primary culprits were Talia Caldwell and Afure Jemerigbe, but it was a team-wide failure.  Passes went to empty spots on the floor, players randomly lost the ball while dribbling, etc.  It's likely that some of the turnovers were caused by players forced to play out of position because the Bears only suited up 8 players.  Nevertheless, 29 turnovers won't win many Pac-10 games, and this will likely be a story for the foreseeable future as Cal's three freshmen integrate with the six returning healthy players.

Cal was able to win so comfortably mostly because Yale shot just 22% from the floor and 5% from behind the arc.  Some of this was caused by Cal - Stallworth recorded an impressive 5 blocks and Yale didn't have a ton of open shots.  But some of it was just poor shot selection and rushed releases.  Still, tonight was a good lesson that strong defensive play can win a game despite poor offensive execution.  Now it's on to the Colliers International Classic, where the Bears will face Cal State Fullerton and either Tulane or Portland State.

The Cal women return home after a tough, wild loss in double overtime at The Pit against New Mexico.  They will face the Yale Bulldogs of the Ivy League, who are coming off of back to back blowout losses to Boston and Delaware.  Yale should present an easy opportunity for a young team to bounce back at home, but then again I thought New Mexico would present an easy opportunity for a young team to secure a road win.  Hit the jump for a quick Yale preview and a look at what went wrong against those pesky Lobos.

Yale was picked to finish 4th in the 8 team Ivy League, a conference with very little history of NCAA success.  The Ivies have but one NCAA tournament victory in 19 tries, when 16 seed Harvard upset injury-depleted Stanford in the first round - still the only 16 over 1 upset by either gender in NCAA history.  So needless to say, Cal is a heavy favorite tonight.  Megan Vasquez and Yoyo Greenfield are the players to watch - Vasquez leads the team in minutes, shots and points while Greenfield is the primary ball handler.

As you would expect in this kind of matchup, Cal will have the advantage in size and likely in speed and athleticism.  If they can defend the 3 point line and avoid needless foul trouble they should end the day with a comfortable home win.


New Mexico 63, Cal 54: Recap

It’s really tough to wrap my head around what happened to the Bears Saturday afternoon against New Mexico.  After the Cal men beat the Lobos Saturday night this was my comment:

I really wasn’t expecting a win today – I though today was going to be a ‘welcome to division 1 basketball’ day for the freshmen.

Well, it looks like I had the situations reversed.  Trying circumstances made a road trip to New Mexico a ‘Welcome to Division 1 basketball’ moment for Cal’s freshmen.  Lindsay Sherbert, just one game removed from scoring 20 points and sinking 4 three pointers, went 0-9 from behind the arc and scored just two points in 38 minutes.  Mikayla Lyles and Afure Jemerigbe combined for 31 minutes and 0-8 from the floor.  Combined, Cal’s three freshmen only recorded 5 points in 69 minutes.  In the final period of overtime, with DeNesha Stallworth and Layshia Clarendon fouled out, all three were thrown into the fire, playing out of position, and the results weren’t surprising.

But it wasn’t just the freshmen.  Layshia had a rough all-around day, hitting only 25% of her shots and turning the ball over 5 times (to just one assist).  DeNesha was evidently in foul trouble all game – a huge problem for a team with no inside depth.  Most concerning of all - Rama N’Diaye only played 12 minutes in a game in which three players logged more than 40.  After two years off the court it wasn’t clear what kind of effort she would be able to sustain physically, so only 12 minutes is concerning.  It’s not clear to me if this was a bad matchup, a lack of endurance, or some kind of mid-game injury, but it’s concerning nonetheless because Cal’s depth chart was already perilously thin and seemingly getting worse by the day. (Edit: Reportedly Rama has just come down with an illness, which is very relieving news)

Based on what I’ve seen I think this entire season may hinge on Gennifer Brandon’s ability to return from her ‘stress reaction’ and play like she played last year.  It’s certainly possible that Rama’s knees will hold up and that she will regain her endurance – but it’s a risky situation to bet on.  And as good as DeNesha and Talia are, that’s just not enough depth, particularly in a conference full of elite forwards like the Pac-10.  Right now, at any hint of foul trouble Cal will be forced to play small, and that’s just not what this team was built around.  With Gennifer Cal become an elite rebounding team, rather than merely above average.  With Cal’s shooting problems, they need to be elite.  Get healthy Gen!  But don't rush back without fulling healing either!

Last week I was intentionally trying to temper my optimism after two convincing wins over solid competition.  Now I have to temper my pessimism after a bad road defeat that revealed some flaws.  For one thing, just about everything had to go wrong for Cal to lose in double overtime.  And let’s be clear.  Cal still isn’t a good outside shooting team (yet) but 1-21 is still a crazy statistical outlier that probably won’t happen again this year.  And if Cal had hit just one or two more they probably escape Albuquerque with a win.  So let’s see how things develop.  Back to back road trips against Texas Tech and Illinois in late December will give us a good idea of where Cal stands before conference play.

Go Bears!