For many teams, March is the month of fruition. After four months of basketball, March is the month in which their hard work and dedication culminates in winning the big tournaments. However, for some teams, like Cal women’s basketball, March is not exactly a month of payoff — it’s a month of opportunity.
After a rocky season in which the Bears finished 13-16 and 4-14 in the Pac-12 conference, the team heads to Las Vegas for the annual Pac-12 tournament. Because it finished 10th overall in the conference, Cal will enter the dance as the 10th seed, matched up with seventh-seeded Washington State.
The Bears are an absolute longshot to win the tournament, let alone string together more than one win. Cal would have to face a gauntlet of Pac-12 rivals to reach the end, with Utah waiting in the second round, as well as Colorado and Stanford lurking further along in the bracket.
But the beautiful thing about March is the opportunity for absolute madness. The Bears have a chance to make the previous four months of up-and-down basketball seem like an afterthought with a single Cinderella run.
First things first, though, Cal has to win its first round matchup against Washington State — and the first round has not treated the Bears well in recent history.
The Bears have not won in the first round since 2020, when they narrowly defeated Arizona State. Leilani McIntosh and Evelien Lutje Schipolt are the only players that remain from that 2019-2020 team. Since then, Cal has been unable to make it to the second day of the tournament.
And of all the Pac-12 opponents to draw, Washington State might be the least familiar. The two teams have only played once this year, when the Cougars won 70-60 on their home court. It was a tight game up until the fourth quarter, when Washington State popped Cal in the mouth with several knock out punches from beyond the arc.
If Cal wants to pull off the upset, it all starts with its star: Jayda Curry.
Curry has had a strange sophomore year. Though averaging fewer points than her historic freshman year due to a slow start to the season, Curry has refound her touch as of late. The combo guard is averaging 27 points in her last three games and continues her historic streak of consecutive games with a three-pointer.
Curry’s streak currently sits at 51 games in a row — the longest streak in Pac-12 history. Funnily enough, she tied the previous record against Washington State. Curry was quiet in that first matchup, so she will need to continue her hot streak in the Pac-12 tournament.
The other X-factor in this matchup is the Cougars’ Charlisse Leger-Walker. As Washington State’s leading scorer, Leger-Walker torched the Bears for 25 points, five assists and two steals in the first matchup. She was able to put the game on ice in the fourth quarter by burying several timely threes.
Head coach Charmin Smith has a few options to throw at Leger-Walker. The Bears have Karisma Ortiz, Curry and/or McIntosh to chase her around the perimeter. It would be interesting to see Curry get the assignment, similar to her matchup against Stanford’s Hannah Jump — a player who Curry has done well against with a similar skillset to Leger-Walker as a sharpshooting scorer.
Despite McIntosh’s poor shooting performance the last time the two schools met, the Bears fought against the Cougars well. That being said, Washington State locked up the Curry-McIntosh backcourt, so Cal will have to do better to get those two opportunities to score.
13-16 is not indicative of Cal women’s basketball grit and toughness. With close games against ranked teams like Stanford, Notre Dame and UCLA, the Bears are fully capable of pulling off an upset under the right conditions. March is an opportunity to prove they are better than that record.