Battle of Top-10 Foes Comes to Berkeley

Photo: Senior guard Alexis Gray-Lawson is one of four seniors playing in their final season for the Bears. Gray-Lawson is currently second on the team in points scored per game, averaging 9.5 points in the team's first two efforts.
Anna Hiatt/File
Senior guard Alexis Gray-Lawson is one of four seniors playing in their final season for the Bears. Gray-Lawson is currently second on the team in points scored per game, averaging 9.5 points in the team's first two efforts.


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It's after practice Wednesday afternoon. Senior Alexis-Gray Lawson is talking about the No. 7 Cal women's basketball team's upcoming game against No. 3 Rutgers, when the guard takes a step back to reminisce about the journey up until this point.

It began just four years ago, when the program was floundering around the bottom of the Pac-10. But then coach Joanne Boyle arrived with a promising group of recruits with a mission to transform the team.

Flash forward to the present where the Bears (2-0) have now become a perennial contender and are coming off their best season ever. They enter tonight's game with their highest ranking ever in the polls.

"For the first time, we're here," Gray-Lawson said. "We're in the spotlight. We have to chance to show everybody, here's Cal basketball."

For the past month, the campus community has been hyping up this battle between the two top-10 teams. The game, which takes place tonight at Haas Pavilion, has captured the attention of students and fans alike.

"I'm getting phone calls at two in the morning from people going 'Hey, how can I get tickets?' and stuff like that that excites us," Gray-Lawson said. "'This is what we came here for."

It was just last year that the Bears narrowly lost by five points to the then-No. 6 Scarlet Knights at the Louis Brown Athletic Center.

Rutgers (2-0) returns three starters, including senior Kia Vaughn and junior guard Epiphanny Prince. Both were named preseason candidates for the 2008-09 John R. Wooden All-American team.

Prince, who led the team in scoring last year, is once again setting the bar for the Scarlet Knights. She has 41 points in the first two games.

"Epiphanny is Epiphanny," Gray-Lawson said. "There's nothing bad to say about her. Some people have weaknesses you can exploit, but she works so much on her game that you can't really exploit those weaknesses, and I think that's what makes her the No. 1 two-guard in the country."

While Prince may be the top shooting guard, Cal returns the nation's No. 1 power forward in Ashley Walker-according to ESPN.com-along with every other starter from last year's team.

Walker leads the team with 25 points per game.

Hampton and forward Rama N'diaye are both nursing injuries and will be game-time decisions.

The Bears managed to find a way to win without their key post players through ball control and rebounding. But Rutgers, known as an aggressive team, comes in averaging over 15 steals and 49 rebounds in its first four games.

"They're scoring a lot of points off of people's turnovers, so we have to be able to keep control of the ball and also make sure we finish plays," Boyle said.

Beyond the stat box, though, is the issue of history.

Despite the Bears' 31-game non-conference home winning streak, they have only one victory over a top-10 team since Boyle took over–a 72-57 win over the then-No. 8 Cardinal in 2007.

But Gray-Lawson sees things differently. After witnessing both Stanford and Maryland fall this past weekend, she sees this game as a golden opportunity.

"For me, I've had this theory," Gray-Lawson said. "Think about it, how many times does Maryland lose? And they lose to TCU, who's on our schedule at home. Then Stanford turns around and loses (to Baylor). Never happens. And Baylor's on our schedule. I feel like God is giving us the perfect opportunity to take the key to success and grasp it."

Tags: CAL WOMEN'S BASKETBALL, JOANNE BOYLE, ALEXIS GRAY-LAWSON


Contact Jimmy Tran at [email protected]



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