The word “encouraging” has been tossed around the Cal women’s basketball program recently. It was encouraging when the Bears narrowly lost to top-ranked Notre Dame. It was encouraging when the team record was 9-2 entering Pac-12 play, and it was encouraging when Cal came just short of upsetting Stanford at Haas Pavilion. But amid a five-game losing streak and a measly 1-6 record against Pac-12 opponents, Cal has reached the point where “encouraging” just isn’t satisfactory anymore.
“I think at this point, we’re just frustrated,” said head coach Charmin Smith. “But we are better. And it’s tough with 18- to 24-year-olds to help them understand that it doesn’t always feel the way you want it to feel even when you are having progress and growing.”
The teamwide frustration truly speaks to the Bears’ desire to win. Despite the team’s shortcomings when it comes to the X’s and O’s, every single player in the locker room has the mentality of a winner — a credit to Smith and her coaching staff. Unfortunately for the blue and gold, that has yet to translate to on-court success in the Pac-12 conference.
Cal lacks consistency — another familiar word echoed about this team. Sometimes the Bears have games where they look like they can beat any team in the first three quarters, only to completely collapse in the fourth. Other times, they will get blown out of the gym right from the get-go. In some games, the offense can’t miss; in others, it can’t throw a pebble into the ocean.
It is almost hyperbolic to call these next two games versus Oregon and Oregon State must-win situations. But given the five-game losing streak and boiling frustration, Cal women’s basketball is in dire need of a win; not a metaphorical win nor a moral victory, but a physical, tangible W.
And a win like that is not going to come on a silver platter.
No. 23 Oregon will mark the Bears’ fourth straight game against a ranked opponent. The 13-6 Ducks are 4-4 in Pac-12 play. Led by senior guard Endyia Rogers, who averages 15.7 points and 4.4 assists, Oregon is a high-octane offensive juggernaut. The team averages 80.0 points a game and boasts four double-digit scorers.
Oregon likes to run three-guard lineups with Rogers, Te-Hina Paopao and Chance Gray, which maximize spacing for its bigs down low. In the past, guards have been the quiet kryptonite of this team. Names like Haley Jones, Olivia Miles and Jaylyn Sherrod come to mind. It’s difficult because Cal lacks backcourt depth behind Leilani McIntosh and Jayda Curry specifically — a backcourt that is pretty small to begin with.
Oregon State poses a different challenge. The Beavers’ last game was against the Ducks and they pulled off a miraculous upset over their in-state rivals. The Beavers stunned their opponents by dominating down low, outscoring them 46-16 in points in the paint. One of the other ways teams have bested the Bears is by roughing them up on the block. Though Evelien Lutje Schipholt, Peanut Tuitele, Michelle Oniyah and Claudia Langarita make up a talented frontcourt rotation, they lack outstanding height and none of them can be dubbed defensive anchors, which leads to constant overhelping on the block and easy baskets for their opponents.
The past month has been rough for Cal women’s basketball. The one asterisk on the five-game losing streak and 1-6 Pac-12 record is the fact that they are in the toughest stretch of their schedule, which just so happens to coincide with the start of Pac-12 play.
“Those (Pac-12) teams are where we want to be. Who we are striving to be. It takes time, it takes persistence, it takes constant buy in and we have to stay steady with who we are,” Smith said.
But a five-game losing streak is still five Ls and there isn’t going to be an asterisk on the Bears’ final 2022-2023 record when all is said and done. For Cal to get to where it wants to be, it has to become something other than “encouraging” and start winning some games.