If any team is capable of beating No. 2 Stanford at the Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament this week, it’s probably Stanford itself. And even that’s a long shot.
In addition to having won an NCAA-record 75 straight conference games, the top-seeded Cardinal (28-1, 18-0) have arguably one of the strongest post duos in the history of women’s college basketball and a supporting cast that’s firing on all cylinders. Throw in a coach with 854 career wins, and it’s hard to imagine this talented squad could lose focus in Los Angeles this weekend.
“They play so hard,” Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “Nneka [Ogwumike] and Chiney [Ogwumike] are unbelievably athletic, but I think just minute for minute, I don’t [know] if there’s anyone who outworks them.”
Nnemkadi Ogwumike, who recently received her second Pac-12 Player of the Year award, and sister Chiney, the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, are a handful in the paint for any team. But as Cal learned Sunday, perimeter threats like sophomore guard Toni Kokenis and junior forward Joslyn Tinkle can’t be neglected either. If the role players bring their “A” games to Los Angeles, opponents will essentially be left with a pick-your-poison scenario.
In addition, senior center Sarah Boothe and freshmen forward Taylor Greenfield are returning from injuries for Thursday’s quarterfinal bout with the winner of today’s Washington-Oregon game.
Pac-12 Coach of the Year Tara Van Derveer said youth and inexperience are potential pitfalls for her squad. “You have a lot of young players who have no idea of the hurricane they’re just about to get into,” she said.
Across the Bay, second-seeded Cal (22-8, 13-5) is trying to regroup after a humiliating 86-61 loss to Stanford on its home-floor Sunday.
“We just need to make sure that we come out Thursday night and use whatever sting of a tough loss we have to help us play the best that we can,” Gottlieb said.
If Cal knocks off the winner of Utah-Colorado in the quarterfinals Thursday, they’ll likely face USC, a team that beat them twice this year, in the semifinals Friday. Gottlieb said the keys to getting past USC for another shot at
Stanford will be dictating the game’s tempo and controlling the glass, but she isn’t looking past anyone.
“My focus is on making sure that we’re the best version of Cal basketball on Thursday,” she said.