Cal women’s basketball head coach Charmin Smith is now in her fourth season in charge of the program. Smith took over in the summer of 2019, after former head coach Lindsay Gottlieb led the Bears to a 20 win season in her last of eight seasons at the helm.
Since 2019, Smith has won a total of seven conference games. On average, the Bears have won one in every seven Pac-12 matchups during her tenure.
Sunday’s loss to then No. 8 UCLA marked Smith’s 49th conference game as a head coach. This Friday, No. 24 Colorado will come to Berkeley for Smith’s 50th. Then, Sunday, the Bears will welcome the No. 8 Utes to Haas Pavilion to cap off a daunting weekend home stretch.
And nearly 50 games in, there is still no sign that Smith has developed a team that is capable of even middling Pac-12 competitiveness.
On January 2, Cal won at home against Arizona State, the Pac-12’s only winless team in conference play. Before and since then, a conference win has seemed unlikely thanks to Cal’s subpar offense. A loss by four points against No. 2 Stanford nearly two weeks ago was made possible only by a strong defensive performance in which the Bears held the Cardinal to just 60 points.
Aside from Jayda Curry, Cal’s history-making guard who surpassed Kelsey Plum for the second most consecutive games with a made three-pointer since 1999-2000, the Bears simply lack the offensive talent to beat teams by scoring efficiently. The talent gap was on full display last Friday in the Bears’ 43-63 loss to USC, a game in which Cal scored its fewest points by far this season. The woes date to the beginning of Pac-12 play, as Cal women’s basketball has won just one of its previous six games.
Now, the slumping Bears will face the high-flying Buffaloes on Friday morning in a milestone game for Smith. The Buffs are listed in the AP Poll for the first time this season after conquering then-undefeated Utah two weeks ago and then beating No. 14 Arizona this past Friday. They have trailed in the second half for a grand total of 71 seconds over the course of the past six games.
In short, they’re a top-15 team in the making and Cal may just be the easiest prey of all for Colorado at this point in the season.
Cal’s second matchup of the weekend, No. 8 Utah, has lost just one game this season and is perched atop the conference standings, having won its first thirteen games. Head coach Lynne Roberts’ team is the best in the Pac-12 and one of the best in the nation on the offensive side of the floor, averaging 86.8 points per game this season.
Junior forward Alissa Pili leads the Utes’ offense in scoring with 19.8 points per game, the third best average in the conference. She’s also the most efficient scorer in the Pac-12. Holding Pili to 15 or fewer points would be a huge victory and set Cal up for an upset.
But one or several members of Cal’s backcourt — Curry, fellow guard Leilani McIntosh and Utah transfer and redshirt sophomore guard Kemery Martín — will need to play an outstanding game offensively to accompany a strong defensive performance.
50 conference games for Smith as head coach is only a milestone because it puts into perspective just how much the Bears have struggled over the course of the past four years in arguably the NCAA’s best women’s basketball conference. It’s unlikely that Cal pulls off the upset in either of this weekend’s games, but a win would feel like a breath of fresh air for Smith and her team.