After snapping No. 1 UConn's win streak at 90 games, the Stanford women's basketball team looks to increase its own win streak to four when it opens Pac-10 play at California. The game tips off at 12:30 p.m. PST and will be broadcast on CSN Bay Area. Norcalnick of California Golden Blogs
took the time to answer some questions about the Golden Bears.
How's life without Alexis Gray-Lawson?
Well, the most obvious difference is that DeNesha Stallworth is the focus of the offense, and she's now the player teams will scheme to stop. But losing AGL has created a sense of deja-vu at the guard position, as Cal is again getting used to breaking freshmen into the rotation. Last year Layshia Clarendon and Eliza Pierre entered the rotation and there were significant growing pains, even for Gray-Lawson to deal with, and Cal's offense suffered. But by the end of the year the threesome really came together and fueled Cal's WNIT run.
Now with Gray-Lawson gone Cal has to integrate Lindsay Sherbert and Afure Jemerigbe, and we're going through the same growing pains. So in that sense Stanford may be fortunate to be playing in Berkeley so early in the season. Cal will likely be able to use Stanford as a measuring stick to see how much progress the team has made from the beginning to the end of the Pac-10 schedule.
Who or what was the biggest surprise of the nonconference season?
There hasn't been anything terribly surprising so far, other than a double overtime loss to New Mexico that came when half the team was injured and the other half was reportedly recovering from bad colds. So I'll go with Talia Caldwell, who has emerged as a consistent secondary threat in the post after DeNesha Stallworth. Talia had always been a good rebounder and high percentage shooter, but with Gennifer Brandon out for (likely) the season and Rama N'Diaye struggling to return from knee surgery she's really stepped up by playing major minutes and upping her impact to the point that she's nearly averaging a double double. I'd like to see her improve her free throw percentage (57%) a bit more, but she's playing more than 30 a minutes a night with sustained success and that's exactly what Cal needed from her.
What's your assessment of freshman Lindsay Sherbert thus far?
She's the exact type of player that Cal needed this year, for one. She's intelligent, composed, and capable of hitting a three pointer, three skills I was hoping to see from our freshmen wings. Last year Cal really struggled from deep outside of Alexis Gray-Lawson, so a dose of shooting was really needed. Lindsay's had her share of off games, but she's shown the ability to hit from deep often enough that she could be a 40% or better shooter from behind the arc someday down the line. And for now she's good enough to keep defenses from completely collapsing on our post players.
She could stand to be a little more assertive, but I'll take a player who makes good passes and controls the ball over a player who takes bad shots and turns it over too much. I'm confident that the assertiveness will come in time. For now she's letting the game come to her and that's OK with me.
In what areas do the Bears most need to improve heading into conference play?
Turnovers, turnovers turnovers. Cal isn't going to be a spectacular shooting team, but their defense and rebounding is good enough to stay with just about anybody as long as they hold on to the ball. When Cal turns it over two things happen. Obviously, we lose a chance to score, which is really important for a team that depends on offensive rebounds and sheer volume shooting. But more importantly, it gives opponents the opportunity to score in transition. When Cal's defense is set it's pretty good - we shut down Texas A&M in the halfcourt. But when teams run on us we struggle.
Unfortunately the turnovers are a factor of youth, so they're probably not going away very soon. But if Cal can hold onto the ball in any one game they're a tough team to beat.
What's your prediction for Sunday's game?
Both teams come out cold from the field and the first ten minutes is a defensive slog. But Stanford gradually opens up a lead as the Ogwumike sisters take advantage when Talia Caldwell and/or DeNesha Stallworth take brief breaks on the bench. My voodoo rituals designed to heal Gennifer Brandon's stress fracture fall on deaf ears. Stanford goes into the break up 12. Cal fights their way back into the game early in the 2nd half, but a lack of depth and foul trouble ultimately allows Stanford to pull away for a relatively easy 17 point win. Eliza Pierre's defense holds Jeanette Pohlen to a relatively pedestrian night, but Cal's lack of depth at forward is too much as the Bears just don't have the players to guard Nneka, Chiney and Kayla Pedersen all at the same time.