Finally, conference play has begun. After a great 12-0 non-conference record, albeit mostly against weak opponents, it was time to see whether the #21 Cal women’s basketball team could hang with its conference rivals.
Last year, the team also started the season in the state of Arizona after a pretty good non-conference play, including a triple overtime win over UCLA. It was not a fun weekend though, the Bears were blown out of Tempe by the Sun Devils, and then fell in a close game to a lousy Wildcats team. Sure enough, it turned out that 2016 would not be a good year for the Bears as they stumbled to a 4-14 Pac-12 record, including 0-9 on the road. Yes, they had a great Pac-12 tournament run, but it wasn’t enough to get the Bears to .500 and a postseason berth.
So... this year it was all about seeing whether the Bears would have some redemption in the Arizona series opener. The Bears showed that indeed the non-conference play was no fluke, and this is a team we can believe in going forward.
DECEMBER 29: #21 CAL 74 @ ARIZONA 64
The Bears snapped a 10 game conference road losing streak taking down the Wildcats in the opener. The game started off dicey as the Wildcats were red hot at the start of the game, shooting 46.4% in the first quarter and had led by 5 points before Cal went on a 7-0 run to close the first and did not look back. The Bears outscored the Cats 17-9 in the second quarter and were barely threatened in the second half.
Some encouraging things that happened in the game included:
- Penina Davidson’s first career double-double, taking 14 rebounds (8 of which were offensive rebounds) and scored 12 points, mostly on those offensive rebounds.
- Kristine Anigwe also scored a double-double despite playing the final 15 minutes or so of the game with 4 fouls.
- Courtney Range had her fifth straight double-digit scoring game.
JANUARY 1: #21 CAL 62 @ #18 ARIZONA STATE 72 (2OT)
So, the big question was whether the Bears can hang in their first road game against a ranked opponent, and the answer was yes. Unfortunately, some missed free throws down the stretch and some timely defense by Arizona State doomed the Bears, who had multiple chances to score the go-ahead in the final minutes of both regulation and the first overtime. The window then shut quickly as Arizona State dominated the second overtime to prevent the upset.
Now I couldn’t watch most of the game as I was in a fetal position watching the potential Oakland Raiders’ division championship fade away, in a game that made me wish for the night I was watching the second half of the Cal MBB/Arizona game. But, here’s the keys to keeping the game close with ASU:
- Well, remember the Davidson double-double I talked about earlier? Well, she went ahead and set a career best with 19 points against Arizona State, including three threes (Say that three times fast!), doubling her season total for three pointers. Incidentally, her previous high was 17, also against Arizona State when Cal pulled the upset last March in the Pac-12 tournament. She was one rebound short of another double-double. If she can be this productive all throughout 2017, this greatly raises the ceiling for the Bears.
- The Bears committed 20 turnovers, which the Sun Devils converted into 28 points. However, more than a third of those turnovers and points came in the first quarter. Props to the Bears for making adjustments to stop the bleeding and prevent the game from getting out of hand.
- The Bears were down 11 in the first quarter, but held the Sun Devils to 8 points in the second quarter to get the game close. I don’t have any explanation as to what necessarily happened, but its good to see great defense by the Bears.
Cal, still ranked #21 in the Jan 2 AP Poll, returns home for the first time since December 10 and the challenges won’t stop. The conference home opener is against #16 Oregon State. The then #22 Beavers blew out lowly Washington State at home, then topped then #9 Washington at home in a big time upset. The game was actually a blowout for most of the game before the Huskies came back to make the final score respectable. This will NOT be easy, but the Bears did come close to an upset in the regular season finale at Haas Pavilion and the fans will hopefully be out in full support to see the Bears try to stay undefeated at home.
Then, Oregon will come to town. The team is unranked and were swept at home by both Washington teams... and neither game was close. This was mainly due to injury problems. We shall see if Maite Carzola (who missed the Washington game) and almost-Cal-recruit Sabrina Ionescu (who missed both Washington and Washington State games) will play in the Bay.
Of course, more details on those two games will come on gameday.