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Cal falls to Washington in thriller, 79-77

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The Bears can earn an impressive road sweep in Seattle, but the potent Huskies stand in their way.

Kelsey Plum, the recruit that got away.
Kelsey Plum, the recruit that got away.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

When: 3:00 pm
TV: Pac-12 Network
Live Stream: None
Live statsgohuskies.com

If you had asked me a 10 days ago which team I'd pick to win the Pac-12, I might have said the Washington Huskies. UW lost their first game of the season to a solid Oklahoma team, then won 11 in a row with an average margin of victory of 22 points. That included wins over very good Texas A&M and Florida State teams. Kelsey Plum was leading the nation in scoring. Washington looked terrifying.

Then Pac-12 play started, and UW just hasn't looked the same. They were beaten badly by Arizona State, struggled to put away Arizona, and lost to Stanford on their home floor in a game that was just as ugly as the 60-56 final score suggested.

Is this just a mild slump? Or are conference teams more familiar with Washington somehow able to slow them down? I'm not quite sure, although my suspicion is that UW really didn't face many good defenses before conference play, then couldn't handle the sudden shift to excellent defenses like ASU and Stanford (and hopefully Cal!)

What I do know is that Cal has the opportunity to sweep the toughest weekend road swing they will face all year. A win in this game firmly stamps the Bears as conference champ contenders.

Roster

Starters

PG Jazmine Davis, 5'7'' Sr.
G Kelsey Plum, 5'8'' So.
G Brianna Ruiz, 5'10'' So.
F Talia Walton, 6'2'' Jr.
F Aminah Williams, 6'0'' Sr.

Bench

F/C Chantel Osahor, 6'2'' So.
F/C Katie Collier, 6'3'' So.

Washington is probably plays the shortest rotation in the Pac-12, maybe even shorter than Cal. Plum and Davis will play 40 minutes/game against any team with a pulse. Oshahor will rotate with Walton, Ruiz and Williams, and Collier might play 7 or 8 minutes as another big. It's pretty simple.

Obviously, all of the attention goes to Plum and Davis. They average almost exactly 40 points/game combined, and it was a much higher number before they struggled against ASU and Stanford. It's worth noting that they are a bit different. Simply stated, Plum is one of the most efficient guards in the country, and she shoots the ball well from any spot on the floor. Davis is certainly a good player, but much less efficient. She needs lots of shots to get her points

But Talia Walton and Aminah Williams are both underrated scorers. Walton is a versatile big who can step back and hit 3s with ease. Wililams is an efficient interior scorer who very much takes advantage of the attention that her teammates draw.

After those 4 players, there's not a ton left. Ruiz and Oshahor jack up a few 3s at low percentages. Everybody else on the roster is an offensive non-entity, mostly because UW's offense is focused on creating shots for their main 4 threats. Any time those 4 players sit on the bench is a positive, although it won't happen much.

Our Computer Overlords Predict

Sagarin Predictor: Washington by 7.8

The computers don't value recent results over older results. All of UW's huge non-conference wins play strongly into this rating. On a side note, Cal's Sagarin rating jumped from the low 40s to the mid 30s with their win in Pullman. A win over UW would likely cause a similar jump.

Keys to the Game

Crush them on the glass - If Washington has a weakness, it's an obvious one: They really don't rebound well. Stanford and ASU both controlled the board without much trouble. Cal certainly has the ability to do the same. Preventing 2nd chance opportunities for UW is an absolute must, but grabbing the occasional offensive rebound would also be a plus.

What defense slows down Plum? I've been debating it and I'm not sure what the best strategy is. Cal's 3-2 zone has its virtues. By extending pressure out on the perimeter, it has the potential to disrupt UW's guard play, and I think it makes it much more difficult for Plum to drive the lane and draw fouls. And she's virtually automatic from the foul line.

On the other hand, UW has a bunch of shooters that will be more than eager to drift into the corner and drain 3s against the zone. So man-to-man might be the best way to go. And watching Stanford shading Plum so that she had to drive with her off-hand was certainly eye-opening.

It might be that a mix of defenses is the way to go. Either way, I'm hoping Cal's long defenders and the relentless energy of Brittany Boyd works just as well against Plum and Davis as it did against Galdeira and Presley.

Attack the paint on offense: Granted, this is kind of a permanent Cal key to the game: the more the ball gets to Reshanda, or the more the guards can drive into the paint, the better. But more so in this game. UW is pretty good at avoiding turnovers, so I wouldn't expect Cal to be able to run a ton. Even more so, Washington avoids fouling (35th in the country in opponent free throw rate), because their starters can't afford foul trouble.

I think that Reshanda will find defense in the key that is much less physical than she's used to. I think Boyd and company will find it easier to get by their opponents on drives. Mostly, I think that if Cal can maintain a constantly attacking attitude on offense, they will either score points or force fouls, or both.