After COVID-19 protocols imposed an extended two-week break since Cal women’s basketball last took the court, the Bears now have an opportunity to rectify their previous shortcomings as they flock to the city of angels for the weekend. The blue and gold will visit Galen Center to face off against USC on Feb. 4 at 7 p.m., before traveling a short 13-mile distance west to contest UCLA at Pauley Pavilion on Feb. 6 at noon.
The postponement of home-court matchups slated to close out the month of January against Arizona and Arizona State but revised due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols within the Cal program.
Despite opening February with just three Pac-12 matchups under their belt — and double-digit losses at that — the Bears are eager to get back into the swing of things. A shining second quarter performance and persistent effort in an eventful road loss to the reigning national champion Stanford left head coach Charmin Smith and her program feeling a far cry from disappointment, rather hungry to build upon the sparks of strength they showcased in their last action on the court.
“It was our best half of basketball this season,” Smith said, reflecting on the Jan. 21 defeat. “We can do some great things in this conference if we are able to be consistent in that type of fight.”
If the Bears wish to amend their rocky start to the year, they must bring their most polished efforts and then some on their weekend trip to Los Angeles as the Southern California schools are forces to be reckoned with in their own right, boasting exceptional talent.
First, Cal will have to tangle with the Trojans, who adhere to their strength, which is their size, playing bully ball in the paint to notch an average of 40.7 rebounds per contest. Impressingly well-rounded on the defensive end, USC pressures the ball to force an average of 14 turnovers per game and occupies the passing lanes for 7.4 steals. Further, the 9-9 program entered the week ranked No. 5 in the nation in blocks per game, utilizing its front-court power to swat 6.4 shots per matchup.
With 6’2” sophomore forward Jordyn Jenkins averaging 13.4 points per game and securing a career high 14 rebounds against Oregon State last week, and accompanied by 6’4” freshman forward Rayah Marshall, averaging 9.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per contest, Cal’s front-court will certainly have to bring its A-game. The blue and gold will likely look to the likes of leading rebounder Evelien Lutje Schipholt to assert herself as a force on the boards and in the paint but will need her front-court partners in Dalayah Daniels and Jadyn Bush to step up to the defensive challenge.
Last week, the Trojans suffered back-to-back demoralizing losses: first an overtime buzzer-beater defeat at the hands of Oregon State, followed by a 32 point blowout against Oregon in Eugene. In both matchups, USC was outrebounded by a margin of 10 boards. If the Bears have any shot at making Friday’s contest interesting, they must take forceful control in the fight for boards — in addition to the high-level guard play Cal fans have seen thus far this season from leading scorer Jayda Curry and go-to facilitator Leilani McIntosh.
On Sunday, Cal women’s basketball will face the tougher of the two matchups against UCLA. Although amid a three-game losing streak of their own, the Bruins boast some top-tier talent in 5’9” junior guard Charisma Osborne, collecting an average of 17.9 points per game, and 5’10” graduate forward Ilmar’l Thomas, supplying 16.7 points per game. Osborne, recently named to the Late Season Top 20 Watch List for the John R. Wooden Award, has scored in double-digit figures in her last 16 games played. Thus, if the Bears want to remain competitive, they must effectively defend and limit contributions from the Bruins’ star guard.
As a team, UCLA shoots a solid 42.5% from the field and leads the Pac-12 in free-throw percentage, connecting on 77.6% of its attempts. The Bruins also enter the week averaging the fewest turnovers per game at 13.1, credited to their roster of savvy guards.
With COVID-19 continuing to disrupt programs all over the Pac-12 and teams facing all kinds of uncertainty, Cal fans should never count the Bears out, even after an underwhelming start to conference play. As shown in the second quarter of the Jan. 21 matchup against Stanford, Cal possesses the potential to surprise its competition. If the Bears can find their groove and consistency during their Southern California visit, then a swing of momentum can remain on the horizon.