Spring Screening

The Daily Cal Sports Staff Rounds up the Spring's Top 10 Events in the World of Cal Athletics.

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February 5

For all of the Pac-10's recent woes, the conference still carries a slew of pro basketball prospects.

Arizona's Derrick Williams may be the best of the bunch right now, and he will take the floor at Haas Pavilion on Feb. 5. The sophomore stud's physical frame, soft shooting touch and determination to get to the free-throw line make him a daunting opponent for any front court defender - just ask the Bears, whom he burned for 16 free throws and a career-high 31 points in their first meeting. At least one mock draft has him slotted for the top overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.

The last time the two teams met, Cal lost a close 73-71 decision in Tucson, Ariz. The Bears missed seven free throws.

Cal can't afford to give away more freebies if they hope to spark an upset in Berkeley come February.

-Ed Yevelev

March 3

By the time March 3 rolls around, the Cal women's basketball team could be looking at another NCAA Tournament-less season or perhaps sitting on the tournament bubble.

Regardless, the matchup against No. 4 Stanford will give the Bears an opportunity for revenge - the Cardinal torched Cal, 78-45, on Jan. 2.

Stanford has been the cream of the conference, with three consecutive Final Four appearances and a No. 4 ranking. A late season victory over the Cardinal could be just what the Bears need to reach the NCAA Tournament.

Look for Cal power forward DeNesha Stallworth to make up for her two-point performance in the first tilt with a strong outing. She'll go up against Stanford All-American Nnemkadi Ogwumike, and her freshman sister Chiney, Stallworth's primary defender.

The last time the Cardinal lost at home was Feb. 4, 2007 ... to the Bears.

-Jonathan Kuperberg

March 24-26

It is all about March.

The Cal men's swimming team gears its whole season for the NCAA Championships, which this year will take place in Minneapolis, Minn.

The Bears will get a bit of a tuneup at the Pac-10 Championships at the beginning of the month, but likely won't be in prime condition to win. That will be reserved for the national meet. To coach David Durden, that's all that matters.

The strategy worked for Durden last season. The Bears stunned as national runners-up, trouncing both Stanford and Arizona, who had both beaten Cal in dual meets. Texas took the crown, but the Bears emerge this season as the favorites to win Cal's first title since 1980.

Most of Durden's core remains in tact, led by Olympic gold medalist and defending NCAA 100-yard freestyle champion Nathan Adrian. The Bears captured five of the championship meet's six relays, and returns all members of those relay teams.

-Christina Jones

March 25

There are only Division I men's gymnastics teams left on the West Coast. Both will be matching up at Haas Pavilion.

With Cal's squad getting the axe in last Septembers athletic cuts, the Big Flip against Stanford will be the last ever home competition for a program that boasts four national team titles and numerous Olympians. The news of the end heavy on their hearts, the Bears have pledged to make their 99th season their best.

With national team gymnasts in Glen Ishino and Bryan del Castillo, Cal has a team with legitimate championship hopes. Back to conduct the team's swan song is Tim McNeill, a three-time NCAA champion who replaces longtime coach Barry Weiner.

Some believe that the loss of the program signals the beginning of the end for collegiate gymnastics, a possibility that only adds drama to a matchup of perennial contenders.

­-Jack Wang

March 26

Last season, the Cal men's tennis team made the second round of the NCAA tournament. Last season, USC won its second consecutive national championship.

Despite recent results, both teams have the same goals: win the Pac-10 and compete for a national championship. When the No. 19 Bears host the No. 2 Trojans on March 26 at Hellman Tennis Complex, they will undoubtedly be playing for something more than bragging rights.

USC returns four of its six singles players from last season's squad that ripped Cal, 6-1, in their only meeting. The Bears' top player, Pedro Zerbini, did not play in that contest, though. He will likely be matched up against No. 6 Steve Johnson, an All-American in singles and doubles last year. No. 18 Daniel Nguyen, the Most Outstanding Player of the 2010 NCAA tournament, will also represent a formidable challenge.

-Jonathan Kuperberg

April 16

Just how big is the Big Splash in Berkeley?

It's a chance for the Bears to topple the nation's top-ranked women's water polo team - and in the process, to finally leave a mark on a rivalry that has gotten brutally one-sided of late.

In 2010, Cal had two late-season chances to assert itself, but instead saw a losing streak against its Bay Area counterpart grow to 27. Jessica Steffens found the net in the waning moments to give Stanford a thrilling 8-7 victory during last year's Big Splash; the following month, the Cardinal would prevail, 6-3, in the NCAA semifinals.

Stanford, eventually finished as national championship runners-up to USC after a 10-9 loss. This year, the Cardinal returns four of its top five scorers, including two-meter set Melissa Seidemann.

Cal's junior sensation Emily Csikos is back to drive the offense, but she'll need help after the team lost a trio of decorated scorers to graduation.

-Ed Yevelev

April 22-23

Michael Coe is good at what he does. Two years ago, the senior set a school record in the mile by clocking in at 3:56.18. And he did it at the Brutus Hamilton Invitational.

Last year's edition of the competition, which Coe called "a world-class event," saw Edwards Stadium host a number of Olympians and USA national champions alongside some of the country's top collegiate athletes. In that meet, it was then-junior Steve Sodaro that joined the sub-four minute mile club, recording a 3:57.25. Only six Cal runners have ever accomplished the same feat, with Sodaro ranking in as with the school's fifth-fastest time.

Maybe the exclusive group won't expand again this year, but it's not out of the question for one of its current members to break their own marks.

-Jack Wang

April 29-May 1

Last spring, UCLA obliterated Arizona to win the Women's College World Series, scoring 21 runs over two games. It was the program's record 11th national championship and first since 2006.

A few weeks earlier, it had been the Cal softball team's chance to take on its Pac-10 rivals. The Bears didn't have much more luck than the Wildcats, dropping the first two games of their three-game series.

Cal will host this year's set of games at Levine-Fricke Field, which - while still without lights - should provide some comforts of home. After exiting the postseason in ignominious fashion a year ago in blowouts against Georgia, the team should be well set for another run at its first WCWS appearance since 2002. Most key players return, including All-American pitcher/first baseman Valerie Arioto.

There's no better test than one administered by the defending champs.

­- Jack Wang

May 21

For the Cal rugby team, the biggest match is always the national championship. Despite all of the distractions and discussion surrounding the squad, this year is no exception.

The Bears will look to defend their title in Sandy, Utah. The quarterfinal and semifinal matches are slated to take place the two prior Saturdays.

Last season, Cal reclaimed its crown from BYU in a 19-7 decision. The year prior, the Cougars had snapped Cal's streak of five straight.

During the season, coach Jack Clark's squad will be tested by fellow strong CPL Pacific teams. San Diego State advanced to the elite eight last year before falling to Arkansas State, and will host the Bears in March. A month later, Cal will face St. Mary's, which has impressed early this season. The Gaels manhandled Stanford last weekend, 77-7.

-Christina Jones

May 27-29

Once the news hit that the Cal baseball team was being cut, there was much speculation about how many players would transfer over the offseason.

On the weekend of May 27, every single starter - save those who graduated or were drafted - from last year's squad will take the field one last time, closing the book on the program and, with it, the historic rivalry with Stanford. If there can be a good way to say goodbye to Cal baseball, ­this is it.

Of course, the Stanford series doesn't necessarily mark the end of the Bears' season; they're certainly capable of qualifying for the CWS. But regardless of what they're doing in June, Evans Diamond will never hum again with the sound of college baseball.

So as those final innings wind down on that Sunday afternoon in May, perhaps Cal fans can find a way to steal the Axe one last time - for the sake of symmetry.

-Katie Dowd

Tags: CAL MEN'S BASKETBALL, CAL MEN'S SWIMMING, CAL WOMEN'S BASKETBALL, CAL RUGBY, CAL MEN'S GYMNASTICS, CAL BASEBALL






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