Eight games into the season, Cal women’s basketball record stands at a solid 6-2. The team has not been perfect, but it has been good enough in out-of-conference play so far. With only three games left before they start Pac-12 play against their rival Stanford — the No. 2 ranked team in the country — the Bears will have to raise their play if they want to surpass their low preseason expectations.
The Bears face a middling 5-4 Pacific team with wins and losses coming from all over the spectrum. The Tigers faced Stanford earlier this season and were wiped out 98-44,but they also demolished Academy of Art 90-26 in their own landslide victory. It is hard to make right or left with this Pacific team, but one thing is certain — this team is the epitome of run and gun.
The Bears will have to limit the production of the Pacific starting backcourt. Guards Liz Smith and Anaya James lead the team in scoring with 15.7 and 14.6 points per game, respectively. Smith is shooting a blistering 48.9% from the three-point line on a hefty number of attempts, rivaled only by James’s 40.0% from distance. The two guards are microwaves that can get hot at any moment. Pacific is a team that works to get their guards the best possible looks, through ball movement and running guard-oriented sets. In the Idaho and Notre Dame games, the opposing guards had a field day from beyond the arc, so this matchup versus the Tigers will test the Bears’ perimeter defense, which has been shaky so far this season.
But anyone who’s watched Cal women’s basketball this season knows that the Bears boast their own fiery backcourt. Jayda Curry’s been the main headliner since she kicked off her historic freshman season last year, but senior point guard Leilani McIntosh has also quietly become what the team has dubbed their “little floor general.”
It’s been a bit of a slow start for Curry this season, who is averaging 14.0 points per game this season, down from 18.6 last year, so McIntosh has stepped up in certain spots to give the Bears some life on offense. McIntosh has been extremely effective in organizing the Bears’ halfcourt sets; she has provided a stability and leadership that has kept the Bears steady when the waters get rocky. And Curry is still an elite scorer who can drain three straight threes at any given moment. The Curry-McIntosh backcourt is a lot smaller than most collegiate backcourts, but it is the lifeblood of this Bears team.
The guard matchups will dictate a lot of how this game is played, but the matchup in the paint, between the forwards and centers, could be where this game is won and lost. The Bears have won games simply because Evelien Lutje Schipholt and Michelle Onyiah have bullied and bruised opponents in the paint.
Since the Notre Dame game, the Bears have looked like the scrappiest team in the interior in each of their games, thanks in part to Jadyn Bush, who has provided unparalleled energy and grit off the bench. Whether it be offensive rebounds or second-chance points, Cal has been extremely tough fighting down low.
The Tigers have a prolific scoring backcourt that matches up extremely well into the Bears somewhat shaky perimeter defense. But if Cal wants to go where it wants to go and achieve what it wants to achieve, it has to win games like this one — that test its weaknesses. The Bears take on Pacific on Saturday night at Haas Pavilion.