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Roundtables: Cal WBB hosts UConn

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Rematch in Berkeley.

NCAA Womens Basketball: California at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Cal WBB is hosting #1 UCONN in Berkeley. The Bears are currently undefeated and so are Geno Auriemma’s Huskies. What does this game mean to the program going into the game undefeated? Win or lose, hat should be some of the biggest takeaways from the game?

Ruey Yen: IF Cal can somehow beat No.1 UConn, that would easily be the biggest win for the program - a Cal program that played the first intercollegiate women’s basketball game (against Stanford) back in 1896. Merely a year ago, UConn destroyed the Bears 82-47 from Storr. A little further back to 2013 at the Maggie Dixon Classic in Madison Square Garden (a game which I covered for CGB), Breanna Stewart and UConn routed a very good (ranked in the top 25 all year long) Cal squad 80-47. This game is all about what the Golden Bears have learned from last year and whether this experienced squad is ready to make another deep run in the postseason.

Sure, UConn are NOT the defending champs since they lost to Notre Dame in the Final Four last year, but they are still the most talented team in women’s basketball again and the measuring stick. UConn also avenged that loss at the beginning of December this year by a convincing 89-71 result at Notre Dame. For future WNBA draft purposes, this would be an interesting test for Cal superstar forward Kristine Anigwe against UConn’s forward Napheesa Collier. Bears would also need to shutdown Huskies’ Katie Lou Samuelson, who can be deadly from the outside; this can be a preview of whether the Golden Bears are ready to challenge Oregon in the Pac this year as the Ducks have a similar deadly scorer in Sabrina Ionescu.

There is precedence of UConn potentially slipping up on their west coast trip. The beginning of their recent 111 game winning streak came after the Huskies lost at Stanford back in 2014. I know it’s women’s basketball, but should a Golden Bears team knock off a top ranked team at Haas again (like the Justin Cobb and the men’s team did against Arizona back on February 1st, 2014). I hope there is a large crowd there to witness the historical moment.

Rob Hwang: What Ruey said. :)

thedozen: Facing the Huskies is a bit like playing a national All-Star team and Lindsay Gottlieb has scheduled UConn to make her squad tougher heading into conference play. I am excited about how Cal has scrapped for some close wins to remain unbeaten, but this won’t be easy.

Nick Kranz: In the last three seasons, UConn has lost two games. Both games were last second buzzer beater defeats to elite, top 4 teams in the nation. Which is to say that merely playing a competitive game with UConn means that you are on the short list of teams that should have the Final Four as a measurement of success. This is a team that just beat the #2 team in the country on the road by 18. They’re not invincible, but it takes an A+ effort from a top 5 team just to barely beat them.

I don’t expect Cal to keep this game close, although hopefully they play the Huskies closer than their 35 point loss at Storrs last year. While the 18-19 Bears have been good, and are undefeated, close wins over Houston and St. Mary’s are pretty strong indications that the Bears simply aren’t yet ready to compete with a team like UConn.

Which means that this game will be more about defining strengths and weaknesses that can be taken into Pac-12 play. If Cal can avoid turnovers against UConn’s ball pressure, it would indicate that their ball handlers have taken a step forward from last year. If Cal can earn high value looks against the best defense in the country that would validate the tweaks Coach G has made to the offense to try to take advantage of Cal’s greater depth at guard/wing. If Cal can hold their own on the glass they they can carry the confidence that they can hold their own against anybody on their schedule. So on, and so forth - anything you can successfully do against UConn can be successfully done against everybody else.

On the downside, UConn is the only top 25 team on Cal’s non-conference schedule. While the Bears have scheduled lots of solid teams, they don’t have any other teams likely to be top 25 or top 50 come tournament time. And that means that, barring the miraculous upset, we won’t really know a ton about this team. We’re likely to know that Cal is better than all of the teams ranked somewhere between 50 and 350 in the nation, and not as good as the #1 team in the nation . . . which are things that we probably could have predicted with confidence back in October. Pac-12 play may be a wild ride of initial uncertainty.

Joshua Morgan: This is as big as it’s going to get for the girls! Huge game for the program. If we can even play them close, then it is a smashing success of a game that shows we have the ability to possibly have some postseason success this year.