We have (finally!) reached our final installment of 'Remember The Seniors. Previously: Layshia Clarendon, Tierra Rogersand Talia Caldwell. Next week we'll be starting previews of the incoming class of freshmen!
With the possible exception of A.J. Diggs, I can't recall a single Bear who has defined their play so greatly by defense for the entirety of their college career. From the minute Eliza Pierre came to Cal as a true freshman she was the best on-ball defender on the team, and she maintained that title throughout. She embraced it whole-heartedly, and that's rare.
Sure, you'll get players who have a natural aptitude for great defense, and they gradually grow into the role of the stopper with encouragement from the coaching staff. But fewer players, I suspect, enter school with an innate, fully-formed appreciation and talent for stopping the opponent.
Playing under Joanne Boyle, a defensive-minded coach, meant immediate playing time for EP, and I think she caught the rest of the conference by surprise. Who was this freshman picking the pocket of our veterans? As a result, EP gained a reputation very quickly. She never recorded as many steals/minute as she did as a freshman, and actually recorded fewer and fewer steals each year. I suspect the cause was twofold: Firstly, teams very quickly learned to run plays for people Eliza wasn't guarding. Secondly, EP gambled less often on steals, instead choosing to keep the ball-handler in front of her.
Her transition from starting point guard to sixth woman as a junior went seamlessly (a credit to Eliza's maturity) and it allowed her to be used as a defensive change-of-pace, and her insertion as a defender changed the course of more than a few games. The addition of a full-court press to Cal's arsenal presented a new way for EP to wreak havoc, and she showed off her versatility by playing multiple positions within the press depending on the personnel available to Coach Gottlieb.
I'm a few hundred words in and I haven't mentioned offense yet. Eliza's lack of a consistent jump shot just became a fact of life, and in an odd way, it's a testament to her growth as a ball-handler and offensive facilitator that she was able to play major minutes without hindering Cal's offense. That said, Eliza seemed to hit some of her biggest shots when Cal needed them most - two big threes during a comeback against Colorado to preserve Cal's Pac-12 title chances, for example.
But Eliza will be remembered for her defense, and also for being the cultural/emotional heartbeat of the team. At the end-of-season banquet, Coach G mentioned that Layshia had been getting plenty of attention for her fashion choices at NCAA and WNBA events, but pointed out that it was, in fact, Eliza who pioneered the bowtie look at Cal.
Obviously, team chemistry and culture is a joint effort, something that is created from the combinations of unique personalities. But I can't help but assume that Eliza's vibrant energy, her constant cheeriness and frequent dancing, worked to shape the team more than anybody else. You could see in it every video the team produced, and you could see it when you watched the Bears in person both before, during and after the game. I'll remember that personality as much as the great defense, which is just what EP wants:
As you complete your Cal career, how would you like to be remembered by the fans, your teammates, etc…
I want them to think of the great times that we’ve had, not just on the basketball court. I want them to remember the conversations we’ve had, the jokes we’ve cracked with each other. I want them to remember that they gave me the name EP. I was not EP before I came here. I was Eliza, I was Lize, I was everything but EP. They gave me that name, so I want them to remember that, to remember that energy.