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Cal Women’s Basketball Season Preview Part 3: The Schedule

In Part 1 I argued why you should follow Cal women’s basketball this season, and in Part 2 we took a look at each team member.  For Part 3 we’re going to take a look at what our Bears will face from November 12th on into March (and hopefully further!)

Non-conference schedule

Cal’s non-conference schedule isn’t quite as challenging as it has been in years past, though some of that is because teams like Rutgers and Texas Tech don’t project to be as good as they usually are.  Still, weather through luck or planning Cal has a solid schedule with a good mix of Big-6 conference teams and small conference schools that performed well enough last year to hopefully avoid killing Cal’s strength of schedule.  Here’s how it breaks down:

Home: vs. Rutgers, Saint Mary’s, Yale, Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State, and Tulane or Portland St..
Road: at New Mexico, Texas A&M, Illinois.
Neutral: Texas-Arlington, Texas Tech in Las Vegas.

Obviously the games against Rutgers and Texas A&M are the marquee matchups, and games against Texas Tech and Illinois are solid games against decent BCS conference competition.  Rutgers would usually be a huge matchup, but the Scarlet Knights struggled last year and return a young team picked to finish just 7th in the Big East.  That leaves a road game in College Station as Cal’s biggest non-conference game.  The Aggies are ranked #8 in both major polls and lost only one player from a six player core that was upset by 7 seed Gonzaga in the 2nd round of last year’s NCAA tournament.

Cal’s mid-major competition is pretty mediocre, but hopefully Cal will avoid any true resume killers.  Consider:

St. Mary’s: 12-2, 21-10, 2nd in the WCC
Yale: 8-6, 13-14, 4th in the Ivy League
CSU Fullerton: 8-8, 15-17, 6th in the Big West
Long Beach St.: 9-7, 13-7, 5th in the Big West
Texas-Arlington: 9-7, 15-16, 6th in the Southland

Other than St. Mary’s, there isn’t a team that stands out as potentially challenging.  But there also isn’t a team that finished below .500 in league play, so hopefully these teams will perform well and not weigh down Cal’s computer numbers.  Those who followed Cal last year will undoubtedly remember the scare the Gaels gave the Bears in November when Cal trailed into the final minute of play before pulling out a three point victory.  St. Marys is returning Louella Tomlinson, a gifted defender that is perhaps the greatest shot blocker in NCAA history.  She averaged 17 points, 11 rebounds and 6.5 (!!!) blocks a game and will present a big challenge for Cal's posts.

It's always tough to project with such a young team, but based on how Cal ended the season last year a non-conference record worse than 9-2 would be a mild disappointment.  It's tough to see Cal winning on the road against a top 10 Texas A&M, but the Bears will probably be favorites in every other game.

Pac-10 schedule:

First Half:
Stanford @ Cal
Arizona St. @ Cal
Arizona @ Cal
Cal @ Washington St.
Cal @ Washington
USC @ Cal
UCLA @ Cal
Cal @ Oregon St.
Cal @ Oregon

Second Half:
Cal @ Arizona
Cal @ Arizona St.
Washington @ Cal
Washington St. @ Cal
Cal @ UCLA
Cal @ USC
Oregon @ Cal
Oregon St. @ Cal
Cal @ Stanford
Pac-10 Tournament at the Galen Center in Los Angeles

Last year I complained about how cruel the schedule makers must have been to give a Cal team playing 6 freshmen such a daunting road trip to open the season.  Games at Stanford, UCLA and USC were brutal and left Cal reeling at 0-3.  This year the schedule is significantly kinder.  The Bears must still start against three tough opponents, but at least this time all three games will be in the friendly confines of Haas Pavilion.  In fact, the entire first half of the Pac-10 schedule is front loaded with home games against what might be the best five teams (other than Cal) in the conference, a welcome sight for a team that is still extremely young.

The flip side of the coin is that Cal has a potentially tricky four game road trip through Oregon and Arizona midway through the conference schedule, and they close with tough trips to the desert, L.A. and Maples Pavilion.  But at least easier home stands against the northwest schools buffer what will likely be season defining road trips.  All in all, a schedule that’s very tough to complain about.

Up next: Previewing each team in the Pac-10 and taking a stab at predicting the season!