More thoughts later in the week, but I was extremely encouraged by Cal's performance against Utah. Or at least, I was as encouraged as I could be with a win over one of the weakest teams in the conference.
What would be even more encouraging? A similar performance against Colorado. The Buffs aren't exactly setting the world on fire this year, in part because their best player, Arielle Roberson, is out for the season due to injury. But they are a tougher test than Utah. And we actually have some basis for decent comparison!
Colorado has faced both Missouri and Long Beach State. Colorado lost at Missouri (who Cal beat by 12 on a neutral court) by 3 points and lost to Long Beach St. (who beat Cal by 2 in overtime) at home by 6.
Four of Colorado's five losses have come to RPI top 50 teams, and their best win is over 7-5 Arkansas State. By that logic, Cal should be solid favorites, but its worth noting that four of Colorado's five losses have been by single digits. The Buffs tend to keep it close, as they did Saturday night at Stanford.
PG Lexy Kresl, 5'11'' Sr.
G Jasmine Sborov, 5'11'' Sr.
G/F Haley Smith, 6'1'' So.
F Jamie Swan 6'2'' Jr.
F Jen Reese 6'2'' Sr.
G/F Lauren Huggins, 6'2'' Jr.
F Zoe Beard-Fails, 6'1'' So.
G Brecca Thomas, 5'5'' Fr.
G/F Alina Hartmann, 6'0'' Fr.
How has the loss of Roberson impacted Colorado? Well, I think the Buffs have done a pretty good job mitigating her loss on offense, where a veteran quartet of players are leading a balanced attack. Roberson hurts more on defense, where her size helped out tremendously inside in terms of contesting shots and locking down the defensive glass. Without her, Colorado's defense has taken a step back.
Kresl, Smith, Swan and Reese are all solid offensive threats. Kresl is more of a jump shooter and distributor, but she does it well. Smith is a slasher who can mix it up inside a bit. Swan and Reese are both classic back to the basket post players. Cal's job will be finding ways to slow all four down.
If they can do it, Colorado might not have many options to turn to. The bench is deep with bodies but shallow in terms of players that have made big contributions. Beard-Fails (what a name!) is a decent back-up posts that just doesn't carry the same level of offensive threat as Reese or Swan. 95% of Lauren Huggins' shots are 3 pointers, so Cal should know what she's in the game to do.
Keys to the game
Clog the post: Colorado's offense is very post-oriented, which is something Cal hasn't faced a ton of this year. Reshanda Gray will obvious draw one of the assignments. But who will take the other? Mikayla Cowling? Penina Davidson? This might be a decent game to give Justine Hartman a run of minutes to see if she can use her size against either Swan or Reese.
Cal's 3-2 zone could be effective, particularly when Huggins, Colorado's zone buster, isn't on the floor.
Deploy the press: Cal used a full court press against Utah to great effect. I suspect it will be similarly impactful against Colorado. The Buffs have been very turnover prone this year, and their starting lineup features three post players who aren't likely going to be comfortable handling the ball in a press break situation.
This should be particularly deadly when starting point guard Lexy Kresl isn't on the court. Colorado's back-up point guard is a freshman with limited minutes and an ugly assist/turnover ratio.
More balanced scoring: This could be a tough game for Reshanda Gray, because Colorado will likely be willing to flood the pain with bodies and send various double and triple teams at her. Thus, it would be great if Mercedes Jefflo and Penina Davidson continue to chip in scoring here and there from mid-range and behind the arc. That combined with continued solid shooting from Mikayla Cowling should hopefully be enough alongside the usual contributions from Boyd and Gray.