The best start in 40 years of Cal women’s basketball will be truly historic if the Bears snap Stanford’s 80-game Pac-12 Conference winning streak tonight at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley.
The No. 7 Bears are gaining national acclaim this season thanks to the first 12-1 start in school history. They’ve already knocked off two ranked opponents — No. 17 Kansas and No. 23 Colorado — and a win over No. 5 Stanford (13-1, 2-0 Pac-12) would be a momentous step toward the goal of becoming an elite program.
“If you want to be at the very top of the basketball world, you have to beat the teams and programs that are there,” coach Lindsay Gottlieb said.
Cal almost halted the longest conference winning streak in the history of college women’s basketball last season when it took Stanford to overtime at Maples Pavilion. But the Cardinal responded with decisive wins in the rematch at Cal (25 points) and in the Pac-12 tournament title game (15 points).
Gottlieb said the Bears want to play an up-tempo style like they did in the first game last year.
“It’s about us playing Cal basketball well versus reacting to Stanford, which I think we’ve had to do in the past,” she said.
As usual, the key to beating the Cardinal centers on containing a player named Ogwumike. Nneka Ogwumike is draining jumpers with the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks now, but her sister, Chiney, continues to be a menace in the paint. Chiney Ogwumike is eighth in the nation in scoring (21.8 points per game), fifth in rebounding (12.2 per game) and fourth in double-doubles (11).
“We really need to make sure that we’re making life tough on Chiney,” Gottlieb said. “Might she still end up with a double-double? Maybe. But we want to make sure those touches and those looks are not gimmes.”
But the Bears are a deeper team this season. Three players — Brittany Boyd, Layshia Clarendon and Gennifer Brandon — are averaging double figures in scoring and six Bears have led the team in points during a game this season.
The Bears are also the nation’s fourth-best rebounding team with a plus-13.6 advantage on the glass.
“For us, it’s always a critical factor that we want to get on the offensive boards,” Gottlieb said. “But I think it’s even more important [Tuesday] because the best offensive rebounder in the country [Ogwumike] walks into the gym.”
Regardless of who comes out ahead, the Battle of the Bay featuring two top-10 teams promises to be a compelling show.
“I think it’s going to be a pretty special night,” Gottlieb said.
WHEN: Today, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Haas Pavilion, Berkeley
TV: Pac-12 Networks
RADIO: KZSU (90.1 FM)