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Cal vs. ASU: Previewing the #14 Sun Devils

It's Bears vs. Sun Devils at Haas Pavilion tonight at 6:00 in one of the most pivotal games of the conference season.

CTT's ASU defense scares me.
CTT's ASU defense scares me.
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

When Cal plays Arizona State, it's frequently unfun. Last year in Tempe, Cal lost by 9 because they committed 32 fouls and had two players foul out. A few years ago, Deja Mann hit an unbelievable 3 point buzzer beater to win a hideous 45-44 game. Even Cal's wins over ASU tend to be ugly.

But a win tonight would be automatically beautiful, because it would be an RPI top 10 win that would propel the Bears to 4-1 in the Pac-12, which might end up being good enough for 2nd place in the standings when the weekend ends.

It won't be easy. Arizona State enters tonight's game with a record of 15-1. Their only loss was to a solid Wisconsin Green Bay team, and they have impressive wins at Miami (Fl) and six other RPI top 100 teams. The scary part? 12 of ASU's 15 wins have been by double digits, including 10 in a row entering tonight's game.

Are you looking for reasons to hope? Well, the good news is that while ASU's schedule has lots of good teams, their haven't really been any great teams. Their best win is at home, over Washington. An argument can be made that Cal will be the best team they have faced so far, and it will be only their 4th true road game.

Still, this is almost certainly the 2nd best team Cal has faced, so it's no easy task.

Roster

Starters

PG Elisha Davis, 5'3'' Jr.
G Peace Amukamura, 5'7'' Jr.
G Katie Hempen, 5'9'' Jr.
F Kelly Moos, 6'0'', So.
F Sophie Brunner, 6'1'', So.

Bench

PG Promise Amukamura, 5'8'' Sr.
G Arnecia Hawkins, 5'10'' Jr.
G Eliza Normen, 6'0'' Jr.
C Quinn Dornstauder, 6'4'' So.

Like most Charli Turner-Thorne teams, ASU basically plays in shifts, with the starters typically logging about 25 minutes each, and the bench players logging 15. Sophie Brunner is ASU's best offensive player, but this is a very balanced team in terms of both usage and scoring. Brunner is a very efficient interior scorer who is one of the better offensive rebounders in the conference.

Katie Hempen is a high volume 3 point shooter (about 6 attempts/game) and Elisha Davis will hoist them up as well, but this is a team much more focused on getting good looks inside. Having said that, they certainly shoot it well enough from distance to keep a team honest.

Davis has supplanted Promise Amukamura as the starting point guard mostly because she's the 2nd best distributor in the conference (after one Brittany Boyd). She's not much of a threat as a scorer inside the arc.

Our Computer Overlords Predict

Sagarin Predictor: ASU by 4.3 points

Cal has made great strides in the computer rankings, but the silicon brains love ASU's dominating start to the year, for obvious reasons. There might be a pretty good reason to hope that Cal is better than their computer rankings, however - see below.

Keys to the Game

What (if anything) will the Bears get from Courtney Range? I'm operating under the assumption that Courtney Range, who has missed seven straight games with a knee sprain, will make her return to the court tonight. She's been practicing in some capacity and there have been various comments over the last two broadcasts basically saying she'll be back.

But if so, what does that mean for Cal? How big of an impact can she make? If nothing else, she's an excellent rebounder, a skill Cal will very much need against a team that is currently 2nd in the conference in rebounding percentage. She had been shooting the ball well before her injury, so ASU would presumably have to respect her shot. If Cal can get a Courtney Range ready to play 20 minutes without sacrificing the development some of the secondary players have made, the Bears are an obviously improved team. We'll see.

How much can Cal take advantage of a size advantage? ASU has one player taller than 6'1''. Cal has seven. And yet, that lack of size hasn't particularly hurt ASU, even in categories that general correlate roughly with size and length, like rebounding and interior scoring. Is that because ASU has the discipline and tenacity to overcome their lack of size? Or is it because they haven't faced a team like Cal that can really exploit the issue? We'll find out.

Fouls: The probable return of Courtney Range should help protect Cal a bit from individual foul trouble. But ASU is a team that, at least so far this year, has typically had a major advantage in the foul column. Even worse, they are effective from the line. Will the game be called tightly? If so, it probably benefits ASU. If Cal can keep the right players out of foul trouble, and avoid a parade of free throws like they gave up against Washington, their chances improve significantly.

The backcourt matchup: ASU has a bunch of speedy guards who force a ton of turnovers. Cal has at least one speedy guard who forces a bunch of turnovers. Can Brittany Boyd dictate perimeter play against the Amukamara sisters and Elisha Davis? Which team will have more success getting the ball into their posts in scoring positions?