When: 2:00 pm PT
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Kelsey Plum? Kelsey Plum! KELSEY PLUM.
Washington probably has other players, but when you have the players leading the nation in scoring, everything else tends to get lost in the shuffle.
Kelsey Plum is a fascinating player. She scores 27.2 points/game despite shooting a mediocre 42.6% from the field. How exactly does she lead the nation despite middling shooting? Four factors: 1) Pace - UW plays a relatively up-tempo style that results in plenty of possessions 2) Minutes - Plum averages 37.4 minutes/game and will play every minute of a game that's close on the scoreboard 3) Usage rate - Plum is 3rd in the entire country in usage rate - an insane 37% of UW's possessions end with Plum doing something, and that something is usually a shot. 4) Free throws - Plum has attempted more free throws than all but 1 player in the nation, and thanks to an 89% rate from the line, has made more freebies than anybody. She's a foul drawing machine, and she always converts.
Washington has other players, I guess. Let's talk about them.
PG Kelsey Plum, 5'8'' Junior
G Alexus Atchley, 5'9'' Senior
F Talia Walton, 6'2'' Senior
F Katie Collier, 6'3'' Junior
F Chantel Osahor, 6'2'' Junior
F Mathilde Gilling, 6'3'' Senior
Yep, that's it. Thanks to a season ending injury to starting guard Brianna Ruiz, Washington essentially plays a six player rotation. Since Ruiz's injury, Kelli Kingma has been getting 3 or 4 minutes per game and nearly throwing up trillions, so the six players above are the only ones you would reasonably expect to impact the game.
Everybody but Collier and Gilling will shoot and make 3 pointers. As a matter of fact, a significant basis of Washington's offense is to surround Plum with a bunch of shooters to stretch the floor so that Plum has space to drive, hit shots, and draw fouls against one defender. Double team her and you're risking open shots from solid shooters.
This system works because the players that can shoot (primarily Walton and Oshahor) can also rebound and defend. Last year, Washington was a scoring machine that couldn't stop the other team from scoring much. Thanks to injuries and departures they aren't quite as potent, but to their credit they have improved defensively to compensate. And when you have Plum, you have a constant source of offense.
Our Computer Overlords Predict
Sagarin Predictor: Washington by 2
Seems like a narrow margin for a ranked team against a team that's 2-7 in conference, huh?
For what it's worth, the computers think the Bears are better than what the eye test is telling us. That's because impressive early season wins over Louisville, Nebraska, and UCLA count just as equally as recent, painful losses. That and the computers don't care that Cal is playing a stretch 4 at point guard.
Keys to the game
Don't foul Plum
Easier said than done, huh? Fouling Plum is the ultimate death - she's going to hit her free throws, and Cal doesn't have the depth to absorb foul trouble. I'll be really fascinated to see what kind of defense Coach G throws out to try to slow her down. If we play man defense, I'm guessing Mikayla Cowling draws Plum (or maybe Mosley when she's on the court?) but Cal doesn't really have an obvious choice to try to slow down perhaps the toughest player to guard in the country.
Attack the bucket in every way possible
Washington is a team that doesn't want to foul either - they only play six players, and they don't really have a bench player that adds much value to the court. Thus, I expect them to play soft inside. That means getting the ball to Anigwe, that means drives from Range and Cowling and hopefully more from Asha Thomas. Play like Plum does, by initiating contact and forcing refs to use the whistle.
Both of these teams are playing with essentially two guards, and with only one player that has natural point guard skills. We have seen (oh God, have we seen) the pain of countless turnovers from the guard-deficient Bears of late. And I'm sure there will be plenty more today. But against Washington, a team that doesn't pressure on defense and has guard depth issues too, might the Bears be able to force just as many as they cough up? If they can, the Bears could escape with a decent upset win.
Hey, I'm not going to argue that this is a great team at the moment. The conference standings are the conference standings. But the Bears have played all of three games at home so far. Home rims were kind on Friday - let's see what this team can do when they're playing in front of friendly faces.