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Cal WBB vs. St. Mary's: Preview & Gamethread

Afure Jemerigbe and Cal's wings might have a chance to thrive tonight against St. Mary's
Afure Jemerigbe and Cal's wings might have a chance to thrive tonight against St. Mary's

When: 7:00 pm PT
TV: None
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Happy day-after-signing-day, Cal fans! In case you weren't aware, Cal women's basketball signed four players yesterday:
Gottlieb announced the signings of Hind Ben Abdelkader (Bruxelles, Belgium / Dexia Namur), Mercedes Jefflo (Compton, CA / Centennial Senior HS), Courtney Range (Stockton, CA / Manteca HS) and Kendall "KC" Waters (Oakland, CA / Bishop O'Dowd HS). With two players considered among the top 55 players in the country according to ESPN HoopGurlz rankings, the incoming group gives California its fourth top 20 recruiting class in the last five years - the lone exception being last season when the Golden Bears did not sign any players. The incoming group is ranked No. 13 by the All Star Girls Report and No. 20 by the BlueStar Basketball Report.
I'd love to spend hours breaking down each recruit, but that's a matter for the off-season. Because it's gameday - let's check out what Cal will face against the Gaels!

With a blowout win over Lehigh under their belt, the Cal women are back on the court tonight facing a much more credible opponent in the St. Mary’s Gaels. Cal has had an ongoing series against St. Mary’s over the last few years, and the Gaels have always brought their best effort against Cal (and, in general, Pac-12 programs.) They lost to Washington by just two earlier this year then beat Oregon comfortably, so a blowout win tonight would be a solid indication of what the Bears might be able to do in conference play.

Last year Cal beat St. Mary’s 65-55 in Moraga behind a shocking barrage of 3 pointers. With only three returning starters it’s unlikely that the Gaels will be quite as good as they were last year, but under head coach Paul Thomas they’ve been a consistently above-average mid-major squad and their play this year against Pac-12 competition is reason enough to expect more of the same this year.

Players to watch

Jackie Nared - A candidate for WCC player of the year, the former McDonald's All American and Maryland transfer averaged 13 points and 7.5 rebounds last year, and has picked up right where she left off as a 4th year junior. Cal knows what she can do after watching her go for 17 and 7 against the Bears last year, and slowing her down will be a good early test to see how much Cal's defense has improved since last year. Her size (6'1'') makes her a tough matchup for any guard, and I would expect to see Afure Jemerigbe get lots of time against her.

Danielle Mauldin - The Berkeley native seemed to take a big step forward towards the end of her sophomore 2011-12 season, and she's followed that up with two monster games against UW and Oregon that earned her WCC player of the week honors. She already has two double doubles, though it will be a formidable challenge for her to earn a 3rd when she goes up against Cal's quartet of posts.

Keys to the game

1. Press press press - Last year St. Mary's was very turnover prone, averaging over 20 turnovers/game, good for 327th in the nation. Meanwhile, Cal has added a vicious looking full-court press to their arsenal this year. Executed properly, it's not hard to imagine Cal running away with this game early if they get their defensive pressure going early.

2. Three point offense . . . - Last year, St. Mary's packed in their defense like no team I've ever seen, all but forcing Cal to bomb 3 pointers all game long. The strategy backfired as Cal's shooters burned the Gaels. I don't know if they'll try the same tactic this year, but if they do Cal must be ready. This might be a good game for Mikayla Lyles to get going.

3. . . . And three point defense - The Gaels won't be afraid to launch 3s after finishing 13th in the country in 3 point FG% last year. Losing Jasmine Smith and her 169 attempts will cut into that, but Nared, Kate Gaze, and Morgan Hatten aren't afraid to pull the trigger. Hopefully Cal can pressure their shooters in the full court and in the half court set to prevent them from getting good looks.