Cal’s 2017-18 high hopes based on combo of veteran talent, leadership and youth

Cal’s 2017-18 open practice. Photo ©

BERKELEY, Calif. – After a season that ended in the second round of the NCAA tournament, Cal follows up by starting 2017-18 with a schedule jam packed with some of the best teams in the nation. Before hyper-competitive Pac-12 play begins at the end of the December, the Golden Bears will commence the regular season against the second-ranked team in the West Coast Conference, Saint Mary’s, followed by a road trip to the East Coast for a contest against the No. 1 program in the nation, Connecticut.

During the annual Cal Classic in November, the Bears will play the No. 3 team in the Southeastern Conference, Missouri. The two teams that are ahead of the Tigers in the SEC rankings are the reigning national champions, the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Final Four team that knocked off UConn in the NCAA tournament last season, Mississippi State.

The remainder of the non-conference slate gives fans the opportunity to see Cal compete against four more WCC teams including a squad that some Power Five teams dread to play, BYU, before ending non-conference play against the SEC’s Kentucky.

Cal’s roster includes a savvy mix of veterans including junior center Kristine Anigwe, a unanimous selection to the All-Pac-12 Preseason Team. The 2016 USBWA National Freshman of the Year is the team’s leading returning scorer (21.0 points per game), rebounder (9.3 rebounds per game) and shot blocker (2.1 blocks per game). Anigwe will miss the team’s exhibition content against Vanguard due to a minor knee injury sustained in practice but she is expected to return early in the season.

Senior guard/forward Mikayla Cowling, senior forward Penina Davidson, junior point guard Asha Thomas and junior guard Mo Mosely add to the mix of experienced players that are expected to carry the Bears this season. In previous years, the team’s load rested heavily on the shoulders of Anigwe but she will have plenty of help in 2017-18.

“I know I’m not carrying the team anymore,” Anigwe said during the conference’s media day last month. “I’m a big presence on the court, but Asha, her shot has gotten so much better. People are getting to the rim.”

As the team’s starting point guard for the past two season, some of that load was also handled by Thomas. Head coach Lindsay Gottlieb expressed a lot of optimism in how the duo will perform this season.

“They’re now juniors,” Gottlieb said of the two. “Personally, for me they’ve been through so much with us, and they’ve turned into not just great talents, but really unbelievable leaders. To see them as upperclassmen showing our youngsters what Cal basketball’s about, their goal is to lead us back to the top. I have a lot of confidence in them.”

Cal also has a cadre of talented freshman and sophomores including sophomore guards Jaelyn Brown and Mi’Cole Cayton as well as center CJ West. The freshmen include guard Kianna Smith, a McDonald’s All-American Team member in 2017 and the fifth-ranked guard in the 2017 class. First-year forward Alaysia Styles was an ESPN HoopGurlz four-star prospect.

Preseason rankings placed the Bears at No. 20 in the AP Preseason Poll and tied for No. 25 with Washington in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll.

Cal plays NAIA Vanguard in an exhibition game Thursday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. PT. The Lions went 30-4 last season before falling in the NAIA national tournament semifinals.

The Bears open the season at home against Saint Mary’s Friday, Nov. 10 at 5 p.m PT.

Cal’s 2017-18 Roster

Anigwe, Kristine
Cayton, Mi'Cole
Thomas, Asha
Cowling, Mikayla
Smith, Kianna
Davidson, Penina
Brown, Jaelyn
Styles, Alaysia
West, CJ
Mosley, Mo
Anastasieska, Sara
Yue, Chen
Olson, Archer
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