Bears Struggle to Find Consistent Effort

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With a starting lineup consisting of four sophomores and a freshman, the Cal women's basketball team has been, not surprisingly, inconsistent thus far this season.

The Bears (10-6, 2-3 in the Pac-10) won five of their first six games - the one loss was in double overtime - but are only 5-5 since December.

One issue has been the location of the games. Cal has defended its home court, winning every game at Haas Pavilion except to No. 4 Stanford. The Bears have only one true road win, a 65-61 victory over Illinois on Dec. 28. They were able to gut out that victory with their inside presence and three-point shooting.

Cal dominated the glass and made 5-of-10 3-pointers in the contest. Its two starting front court players, sophomores DeNesha Stallworth and Talia Caldwell combined for 29 points and 23 rebounds.

The win in Champaign, Ill., was the Bears' first over a major conference team since their season opening triumph over Rutgers. The victories in between were mainly against weaker non-conference competition, which made the result against the Fighting Illini so critical.

Going into the Pac-10 season opener, Cal was optimistic about challenging the Cardinal, which had ended Connecticut's NCAA record 90-game win streak earlier that week.

It wasn't even close. Stanford was up by 19 points at the half and the lead only increased in the second, as the Cardinal won 78-45. They had almost twice as many rebounds as the Bears (49-26) and no Cal player scored more than 10 points.

After the game, Bears' coach Joanne Boyle was upset with the rebounding margin, questioning whether her players were always boxing out their opponent. In fact, Boyle also questioned her squad's effort and has done so repeatedly.

"We don't have an identity this year," Boyle said after the game on Jan. 2. "They need to compete."

Stallworth, the Bears' leading scorer at 14.6 points per game, took only two shots - she missed both - and finished with just two points. Part of the reason was due to the defensive effort by sister forwards Chiney and Nnemkadi Ogwumike. Still, when a team's top scorer gets off only two shots in 25 minutes, something is wrong.

The power forward's play has paralleled the team's. She is averaged 18.5 points per game in wins but just eight in losses. The squad's performance often depends on how successful it is getting her the ball, and how successful she and Caldwell are on the glass.

"We don't have a consistent competitiveness about us just yet," Boyle said. "At times it is there, but consistently you are not going to be in the game with a team like this if they are not going to compete for 40 minutes."

On the road at New Mexico back on Nov. 20, the Bears played well enough in 40 minutes to reach overtime ... and well enough in the extra period to extend the game once more. Although they lost, coming back from a 14-point halftime deficit and reaching double overtime illustrates the fortitude and potential of a very young team.

Unfortunately for Cal, that determination has not been evident in every contest. The Bears beat the Arizona schools by a combined 32 points two weeks ago but fell short on the road the following week against the Washington schools.

With a losing conference record so far, Cal will need to start beating the Pac-10's top teams if it wants a slot in the NCAA tournament. The Bears will have two opportunities this week, as USC and No. 8 UCLA, the squads ranked second and tied for first in the conference, come to Haas Pavilion.


Jonathan Kuperberg covers women's basketball. Contact him at [email protected]

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