Following a 3-0 start to the season, Cal women’s basketball will look to further their win streak at Florida A&M on Monday after visiting Auburn.
Before the team hits the road last week for its first road trip of the season, Cal faced a relentless Cal Poly squad that was within 10 points heading into the fourth quarter. Despite the eventual win, the Bears struggled to find a consistent offensive flow after their sweeping 29-point first quarter.
Cal head coach Charmin Smith called the overall performance uncharacteristic of “Cal basketball.” She emphasized that the team’s undefeated win-loss column was the important, immediate takeaway, but said that more work needs to be done.
“It’s just really important that we have our defensive foundation set and know what that’s supposed to look like in terms of our rotations, our activity on the ball,” Smith said. “We’re just building it and with six new players … it’s going to take some time for things to be in sync, but I like the direction that we’re headed and we can be better than this performance.”
The Bears will look to showcase a cleaner, more dominant display as they face the Florida A&M Rattlers. In the programs’ first ever meeting at Haas Pavilion last season, Cal ran away with an 88-58 win.
However, this Cal iteration will not boast then-sophomore guard Jayda Curry, who has since transferred to Louisville. Curry scored a whopping 19 points for the Bears against Florida A&M last season — a figure characteristic of her prowess on the court.
Despite this loss, the team will return four of the six leading scorers from last year’s A&M matchup: Kemery Martín walked away with 15 points, Mia Mastrov with 11 points, Leilani McIntosh with 10 points and Michelle Onyiah with 8 points. As a program, Cal shot 58.9 percent from the field, and 9-14 last time against Florida A&M — 64.3 percent from the three-point line.
Heading into this matchup, the Bears have certainly proved their scoring depth. Against Santa Clara, the blue and gold had four players score 13 points or more.
While Cal returns Martín, McIntosh, Mastrov and Onyiah, who have all been integral to the success of the squad, three of the leading scorers in the game against Santa Clara were transfers: Ioanna Krimili, Marta Suárez and McKayla Williams.
These recently added contributors, along with the returners, give the Bears a new, if not expanded depth — they now have more than five capable starters, according to Smith.
The Bears will look to continue building their team chemistry as Smith tries to consolidate the rotations. She noted that offensive rebounding is a specific area of improvement — Cal grabbed only 11 offensive rebounds off of 38 missed shots against the Cal Poly Broncos.
Onyiah, a senior center, will be key to that goal. However, Onyiah has struggled with foul trouble in the past couple of games, recently fouling out against Santa Clara and Cal Poly.
After the game against Cal Poly, Smith appeared to embrace Onyiah and have a quick heart-to-heart conversation with her. Onyiah stands at 6’3” and has been an athletic and dominant presence in the limited minutes she’s played against Cal’s preseason opponents so far. She registered 11 points and four rebounds in just 13 minutes of play against CSU Bakersfield.
“I honestly think it will be easier for her with bigger bodies. Sometimes it’s hard when everyone is smaller than you and you’re accidentally knocking them down,” Smith said. “So she might be more in her element in some ways, but those bigger SEC bodies (such as Auburn) are going to be challenging for us in other ways.”
After the blue and gold play Auburn for its first meeting in program history — another program also off to a 3-0 start —they will head to Florida A&M. The Rattlers have an 0-3 record and will be eager for their first win of the season.
Cal will tip off at Auburn’s Neville Arena at 5 p.m. on Friday, and its contest at Florida A&M’s Al Lawson Center will begin at 1 p.m. on Monday.