Thursday’s exhibition match against Vanguard (who for some reason has our old Cal logo as theirs) was the first time I was able to see the new Cal women’s team in action (I couldn’t make the open practice) and there are several reasons for concern, but plenty of reasons for optimism. Although Vanguard is one of the best teams in the NAIA, we can’t draw too many conclusions from this match, but let’s do what we can.
Kristine Anigwe was out as she is still recovering from a knee injury. Although she looked fine walking on the court, no obvious brace or cast, Coach G said in the post-game presser that there’s no timetable for her return and hopefully it will be sooner than later. We also didn’t get to see the debut of Sara Anastasieska who has a back injury and a similar rehab situation as Anigwe.
If that wasn’t enough, we didn’t see Kianna Smith, Alaysia Styles or Mikayla Cowling in the first half. Cowling and Smith started the second half, then Styles came in a few minutes later, and it was confirmed at the presser that this was for (minor) disciplinary reasons, but the matter is handled and no longer a problem.
With that out of the way, here’s the positives.
- When Alaysia “Bird” Styles finally came in, she looked fantastic! After missing her first field goal attempt, she made her final five. She scored 13 points overall, including all 3 free throw attempts. Her athleticism was on full display as she also had four rebounds, 2 steals and 1 block. She was easily the biggest reason to have optimism in the team going forward, assuming Anigwe misses at least one game.
- Penina Davidson had 17 points, leading the team, and 50% shooting including a made 3-pointer. Although she was 2-5 on FT shooting, she had a solid effort in being the de-facto leader of the squad in the first half with no Anigwe or Cowling. I also liked that she assured fans during the post-game presser that the freshmen are as advertised, and the team should have no trouble adjusting when Kristine comes back.
"I think it's great that we have a team that's capable of not necessarily filling Kristine's shoes, but still doing what we need to do to be successful," said Davidson, a senior from Auckland, New Zealand. "When Kristine comes in, she'll integrate right back in perfectly fine."
- There were some first-game jitters with Kianna Smith, but that’s why they play an exhibition. She was very physical, getting 3 personal fouls in the 3rd quarter, but you could see the respect Vanguard showed her and she was constantly double teamed. She finally scored a layup with 2:43 left in the game, while being fouled, and made the ensuing free throw. She also had two rebounds and a steal. The third freshmen, Archer Olson, came in late in both halves and barely missed a three-point attempt with a few seconds remaining but otherwise we didn’t see much of her.
- Asha Thomas had three 3-pointers on six attempts, and hopefully we will continue to see her clutch shooting all season.
- The defense held Vanguard to 34% shooting, although they allowed 8 3-pointers, and had 13 steals.
But there was still concern. Overall the Bears shot 40% of the field, including an alarming 16 of 40 in the first half and there were 5 missed free throws. This isn’t a new issue with the Bears and hopefully will not cost the Bears this season, but we need to see more solid contributions from the team across the board in the games Kristine doesn’t play. It appears that the defense will carry the team this season, as has been the case, but the kind of production on offense we saw today would make the St. Mary’s game a little bleak.
I would think if Anigwe was ready for St. Mary’s they would have said so. “Indefinite” (My words, don’t think Coach G used that word in the presser) injuries can be scary since you never know what will happen. We remember this last year with Ivan Rabb and Jabari Bird’s early season injuries that proved costly even though they returned in time for the heart of the season. We also remember from September how a few “indefinite” injuries to prominent Cal Football players were changed to “season-ending”.
As noted earlier, both Kristine and Sara were on the court for warmups (though not in uniform) with and even participated in some drills. But obviously I’m not a doctor and don’t know what is necessary to clear them for play. Hopefully they are really close and we see both players soon as we’ll need them for the huge game against UConn on November 17.