Cal refocused just in time for the regular season home stretch and the annual Battle of the Bay vs. Stanford
- California (17-8, 8-6 Pac-12) at HF #13/AP #14 Stanford (18-8, 12-2 Pac-12)
- Maples Pavilion, Stanford, Calif.
- 7 p.m. ET/10 p.m. ET
- TV: Pac-12 Bay Area
- Radio: Cal – KALX || Stanford: KZSU
With the Pac-12 tournament just around the corner, California (17-8, 8-6) heads into the home stretch of the regular season with the annual Battle of the Bay series against Stanford on the schedule as well as a trip to the Pacific Northwest to face Washington State and Washington.
In late December, the Bears were riding a seven-game win streak that included victories over BYU, Kentucky and Southern California.
UCLA, a team that has been ranked in or near the top 10 all season, halted that streak when they visited Berkeley on New Year’s Eve. The Bears faltered in the next game as well when they visited Arizona State but a string of three wins followed before the tables turned again with a road loss at UCLA. The up and down pattern continued as the Bears recovered, won two games and then lost three in a skid that began with a home contest against Arizona State.
However, after their very last defeat in a road game against Oregon State, the Bears responded with a Pac-12 sweep at home. First they beat Colorado on Feb. 9. The followed up with a triumph over Utah on Feb. 11.
Led by junior post Kristine Anigwe and junior point guard Asha Thomas, the Bears were impressive from the field and the free throw line over the weekend.
“Pac-12 sweeps are not easy to come by,” said head coach Lindsay Gottlieb about the back-to-back wins in the postgame presser after taking down Utah. “Coming off of last weekend, this team is locked in, focused on doing the right thing, which aren’t always easy things in terms of getting our mindset where it needs to be in basketball.”
Heading into the game against Colorado, the Bears wanted to end their three-game skid, the most contests they lost in a row all season. Sunday against Utah, they shot a blistering 78.9 percent from the field in the first quarter compared to 27.8 percent in the first ten minutes against the Oregon State Beavers the previous weekend.
Cal also improved significantly from beyond the arc. They were 0-11 from three-point land versus Oregon State but 5-of-9 (55.6 percent) in the win against Utah.
“I think we have good shooters,” said Gottlieb confidently about her team’s offensive skills. “We have good free throw shooters, it’s not a group where there’s like a mechanical issue or something like that. I think it’s a matter of refocusing sometimes, going back to what you know you can do.”
She went on to joke that “I beat Kristine in a free throw contest and she felt then she had to step up.”
While her comic relief elicited laughter from Anigwe, she was not off the mark as the team’s leading scorer was perfect from the line (4-of-4) against the Utes.
Stanford looms on the horizon so the refocusing and stepped up effort to be consistent in multiple offensive categories is crucial.
After a rough start to the season losing to Connecticut and Ohio State twice, getting stunned by Western Illinois at home followed by another home loss against Tennessee, the Cardinal are now on a six-game streak with three of their wins coming against ranked, or formerly ranked Pac-12 teams (Arizona State, Oregon State and Oregon). Stanford is in a three-way tie for first place in the Pac-12 and back in the top 20 of the national polls.
“I’m never worried about Tara-coached teams,” said Gottlieb about the resurgence of the Cardinal under Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer. “No matter what they do in the non-conference, they get it figured out and they get ready for conference. I’m not surprised at how well they’re playing but what a fun opportunity. I think the Battle of the Bay is the best rivalry in women’s college basketball in terms of the excitement around it.”
Cal’s coach relishes the challenge of facing the rival across the Bay.
“I think our players like the challenge and I’m glad that Stanford is doing so well. It’s an opportunity for us to potentially knock off one of the teams that’s one of the best in the country. They always give us that opportunity. And similarly, we hope that us playing so well is a challenge to them. So, it’s all good and I’m looking forward to Thursday and Saturday.”
The second game in the series is Saturday, Feb. 17 at Cal at 2:30 p.m. PT. It will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Network and Pac-12 Bay Area.