In theory, this was supposed to be one of Cal’s biggest tests. Nebraska, a consistently above average program in the Big 10, would be a good measure of Cal’s early season progress.
But it’s been a rough off-season in Lincoln. Just weeks after the season ended, 14 year head coach Connie Yori resigned amidst allegations of bullying and player mistreatment. She denies those allegations, but an investigation was conducted in response.
The fallout was painful. Nebraska lost standout guard Natalie Romeo to transfer and a couple recruits - including MiCole Cayton, who ended up signing for Cal. Not coincidentally, Nebraska has had a rough start to the season. The Huskers are 3-4, with three wins over small conference opponents and four losses (all by at least 9 points) to unranked major-conference opponents, including Joanne Boyle’s Virginia and Washington State.
Still, this is a team with talent playing at home, and probably Cal’s toughest game to date. This isn’t a walk-over.
PG Esther Ramacieri, 5’8’’ Sr.
G Nicea Eliely 6’1’’ Fr.
G Jasmine Cincore, 5’10’’ Jr.
F Jessica Shepard, 6’4’’ So.
C Allie Havers, 6’5’’ Sr.
PG Hannah Whitish, 5’9’’ Fr.
G Maddie Simon, 6’2’’ So.
G Emily Wood, 5’5’’ Jr.
F Darrien Washington, 6’2’’ So.
Really, this team is Shepard and not a whole lot else. The former 5 star recruit is averaging 19 points/game on 46% shooting and is a rather absurd 10-19 from 3. The rest of the team is shooting 33% from the field. If Shepard isn’t scoring, nobody else is.
Nebraska’s point guard situation is rough - I think it’s nominally Ramacieri, but she’s received very limited playing time in 3 years and is platooning with true freshman Whitish. Not surprisingly, Nebraska’s assist/turnover numbers are ugly.
Our Computer Overlords Predict
Sagarin Predictor: Cal by 9
That’s a big margin on the road, but Cal has been putting together good performances and Nebraska is very much looking like a bottom tier team in the Big 10 this year. This is Cal’s first road game more than 20 miles from campus, so I guess there’s a certain amount of apprehension here, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Bears are solid favorites.
Keys to the Game
1. Let everybody else beat you
I don’t want to be glib, but Nebraska is dire offensively. They have a premier interior scorer and nevertheless sit 256th nationally points/possession, just behind High Point but a few spots ahead of Prairie View*. Double team Shepard, triple team Shepard, whatever it takes. Nobody else is a reasonable scoring threat.
*Cal is 26th, in case you were curious
2. But if all else fails, hope that Kristine can outplay her.
In case you forgot, Kristine Anigwe really announced her arrival to college ball when she went for 29 and 10 while Shepard scored just 6. And this was a legit comparison, because they went one-on-one with each other for much of the game. The reason Shepard fouled out in 23 minutes? Kristine. Do that again and this game could be a blowout.
3. Bother ball-handlers
As noted above, Nebraska doesn’t appear to have many solutions at point guard, and Shepard isn’t going to be getting the ball in a position to score if those guards are bothered by Cal’s length and athleticism. Defense is the obvious side of the equation to work on for the Bears (the offense has generally been excellent) and this is an offense to squash like a bug. Give them no breathing room.