And now, things get much more interesting. Washington State, on the road, is objectively at least Cal's 3rd toughest game of the season. Probably 2nd toughest, depending on how you feel about the Long Beach State roadie.
The Cougars are 10-3, with impressive wins over Dayton, Maryland, and Gonzaga, and losses to Nebraska, Michigan, and Arizona State. The three losses were all by double digits, but Nebraska and ASU are really good teams, so I'm not going to hold it against Wazzu too much.
PG Dawnyelle Awa, 5'9'' Jr.
G Lia Galdiera, 5'11'', Jr.
G Tia Presley, 5'10'', Sr.
F Louise Brown, 6'2'' Fr.
C Shalie Dheenshaw, 6'4'', Sr.
G Taylor Edmondson, 5'11'' Jr.
F Mariah Cooks, 6'1'' Jr.
G Pinelopi Pavlopoulou, 5'8'' Fr.
When you watch tonight's broadcast, you will hear the announcers say ‘Tia and Lia' many, many times. You will hear them referred to collectively as a ‘show.' It's not without reasons - the duo are 2nd and 3rd in the conference in scoring. They are both sharpshooting guards that aren't afraid to drive the line and initiate contact, and thus can score in a variety of ways.
It's worth noting that both (particularly Galdiera) are prone to high volume rough shooting games, and that's what Cal will have to do tonight.
Everybody else is a secondary piece designed to facilitate the star guard duo. By far the most important player after Tia & Lia is Shalie Dheenshaw, WSU's best rebounder and interior defender. Her presence on the court balances Wazzu and keeps teams honest on both ends. Nobody else averages more than 6 points/game, and players after the big two tend to shuffle in and out of the lineup to keep minutes balanced.
Our Computer Overlords Predict
Sagarin Predictor: Washington State by 5.4 points
The computers see two teams with roughly similar win/loss records against similar quality competition, and pick the home team. Thus, this is a good test to see if the following optimistic hypothesis might be true:
1. Cal has adapted to playing without Courtney Range
2. Cal has adapted to giving major playing time to three freshmen.
These are reasons that Cal might be better than their computer ranking. Time to add another piece of evidence.
Keys to the game
Can anybody guard Reshanda Gray? Last year, Cal played Wazzu three times. In those three games, Reshanda averaged 31 points. It didn't particularly matter who Washington State threw at the Bears, nobody could stay with Beast Mode, and the only reason Washington State beat Cal was because the Cougars simply outscored the Bears.
Washington State's defense is certainly statistically better this year, and perhaps freshman forward Louise Brown might be able to at least contain Gray. But at the moment it doesn't seem likely that Wazzu can defend her much better than last year.
Controlling turnovers - The main difference between Wazzu now and Wazzu last year? The 2013-14 Cougars played abjectly awful defense, but this year it has been much much better. The biggest difference? The Cougars have transitioned into some kind of press defense that is forcing turnovers at a very high rate.
That obviously sounds scary - you will recall that Cal has already lost a road game to a team that likes to force turnovers in Long Beach State. Cal will have to be more careful with the ball than they were against the 49ers. Again, if the Bears can keep the turnover battle close, their strength on the glass and inside will probably be enough to earn a win.
Contain Presley and Galdiera - When two players combine to average nearly 40 points/game, you're not going to stop them. But we're talking about two players capable of scoring in the 30s if they aren't well defended. Galdiera, for example, scored 28 when the Cougars beat Cal in the Pac-12 tournament last year.
Three times this year, both players failed to reach 20 points or more. Two of those games were blowout losses. Force them to be low efficiency volume shooters and Wazzu is much less scary.