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#21 Cal WBB at #18 Arizona St.: Preview & Gamethread

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Cal faces their 2nd ranked opponent of the season in the

NCAA Womens Basketball: PAC-12 Conference Tournament-California vs UCLA Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

When: 2:00 pm PT
TV: Pac-12 Network (HOORAY OUR FIRST NON BIG-10 NETWORK TELECAST OF THE YEAR!)
Live Stats

Spoiler alert: Cal will not go undefeated this year. You don’t play 16 games against top 50 opponents and go undefeated unless you’re UConn. But for now, the Bears still don’t have a loss, and I’d prefer to keep it that way. Arizona St., in Tempe, represents the biggest threat the Bears have faced so far, and the toughest game on Cal’s schedule until they visit Washington in Seattle four weeks from now.

Arizona State started the season inauspiciously, losing to a good but not great Marquette team by 12 before getting absolutely blown away by Maryland. But they’ve been solid since, beating Kentucky and Florida while playing typically brutal defense to go along with bruising interior scoring.

They did lose to Stanfurd on Friday afternoon, 64-57, in a game that showed their strength (offensive rebounding, interior defense) and weaknesses (making shots).

The short story is that they’re good, a bottom of the top 25 type team. Of course, they were a little bit better last year, and that didn’t stop Cal from playing them tough last year before beating them in the Pac-12 tournament. I think the Bears are better (or, at least, can be better) . . . but are they better enough, now, to beat them on the road?

Roster

Starters

PG Reili Richardson
G Sabrina Hayes
F Kelsey Moos
F Sophie Brunner
C Quinn Dornstauder

Bench

G Robbi Ryan
F Kianna Ibis
G Sydney Goodson
F Jamie Ruden
C Charnea Johnson-Chapman

I went ahead and listed 10 players, but this isn’t quite your typical Arizona State team that will play 10 players even minutes and do entire 5-for-5 line shifts. The starters have been getting more minutes than most of the bench players, and since Kiara Russell’s injury ASU has been relying on a core of ‘just’ 7 players for the bulk of their production.

ASU lost the majority of their guard depth from last year’s conference winners, which leaves posts Sophie Brunner and Quinn Dornstauder as the offensive focal point. Reili Richardson has been an impressive distributor as a freshman point guard, and youngsters Hayes, Ryan, and Goodson have all been solid considering their youth, but ASU does have a turnover problem due to having so many inexperienced ball handlers.

Keys to the Game

1. Who can actually score inside?

Both of these teams are post oriented, and both teams will flood the lane with bodies, on both offense and defense. These games typically devolve into a battle of wills and whistles. Which team can win that battle of wills?

2. Can Cal get an edge with outside shooting?

Cal’s 3 point shooting comes and goes, but they have at least three players on the roster capable of hitting a couple 3s*. Arizona State barely even bothers with the shot - they take fewer 3 pointers than any other team in the conference by a wide margin, probably because they don’t shoot them well. And can Cal use that weakness to formulate a defensive game plan that makes life miserable for Brunner and Dornstauder?

3. Balancing aggression with ball possession

Cal tends to rack up huge turnover numbers against Arizona State. In three games last year, Cal averaged 22 a game in games not played at fast paces.

On the other hand, the game with the fewest turnovers was the biggest ASU win (not coincidentally, Kristine wasn’t available for that game). Cal tends to have lots of turnovers because they send in lots of risky passes to Kristine, but those passes are often rewarded by easy baskets and drawn fouls.

Those are the acceptable kinds of turnovers, a necessary externality of trying to feed the best interior scorer in the country. What Cal needs to avoid are the sillier turnovers - random violations, lazy passes, offensive fouls - that occur before they get a chance to throw up passes to Kristine in the paint.

Our Computer Overlords Predict

Sagarin Predictor: Arizona St. by 5

My not-so-bold prediction for this game is that it will be close - that at some point in the last few minutes, the losing team will have the ball down 3 points or less. Arizona St. plays slow enough, and has enough trouble on offense, that they’re not going to pull away from Cal. The Bears, for their part, will probably bring more energy and focus than they did against Arizona on Thursday night.

This is probably something like Cal’s 6th toughest Pac-12 game of the season (Cal’s conference schedule is back-loaded, probably for the better). Which is to say that if the Bears were to lose, it would be an understandable loss.

But it would also be mildly disappointing, because if the Bears want to challenge at the top of the conference, this is the type of game you need to steal away. The first conference games of the season are showing that there’s a core of teams at the top (UCLA, Stanfurd, Washington) ahead of the rest of the pack. I want the Bears to show that they’re closer to that group of team than the chasing pack. Win this game, and we can really start talking about how long this undefeated start might last, and how well Cal is positioned in the conference and for March.