Wins Become Crucial as Cal Enters Home Stretch

Photo: Senior center Rama N'diaye has appeared in 20 of the Bears' contests this year, averaging 13.8 minutes per game. She has contributed 72 points off the bench for Cal.
Evan Walbridge/Staff
Senior center Rama N'diaye has appeared in 20 of the Bears' contests this year, averaging 13.8 minutes per game. She has contributed 72 points off the bench for Cal.

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After two somewhat unexpected losses to Washington and Washington State over the past weekend, the Cal women's basketball team is set to take on the L.A. teams this weekend in an attempt to turn its season around.

Sound familiar?

The Bears were in virtually the same position just less than a month ago, when the first half saw them returning to play USC and No. 9 UCLA in Berkeley after an 0-2 road trip to Washington.

Unfortunately for Cal, this isn't last month. With just five conference games remaining and a losing Pac-10 record, the stakes have been elevated.

"These two games are really crucial for us because we blew it big when we played Washington," sophomore forward DeNesha Stallworth said.

The Bears will go up against the Bruins tonight at 7 p.m. at Pauley Pavilion before facing the Trojans on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Galen Center.

Even though they split the two games in Berkeley, Cal is unlikely to have such an upbeat start this weekend.

Other than against No. 3 Stanford, the Bruins (21-2, 11-1) have been unbeatable in conference play. Of the Pac-10 teams other than the Cardinal, the Bears have come the closest score-wise to defeating the Bruins - Cal's 65-56 loss on Jan. 22 made it the only team to come within single digits.

Still, the nine-point loss is in no way evidence that the Bears can compete with a defense that averages 12.8 steals per game.

"They're a really defensive team and look to pressure, and shoot to passing lanes and get turnovers," Stallworth said. "We have to make sure we meet our passes and take good quality shots and just play team basketball."

Stallworth got 22 points past UCLA in the last matchup, but she was the only Bear to reach double digits. In Cal's last win, a 73-63 victory over Arizona, four players reached double digits and the other two scorers had nine points each.

"Communication I think is our key," Stallworth said in terms of what the team needs to work on after its most recent losses.

"If we come out with the same intensity that we had in the second half (last time against UCLA) and just fix our turnovers and talk on the court a bit, it'll be a good game."

Stallworth, like most athletes do before a two-game series, emphasized that Cal isn't looking to USC on Sunday until it has played the first game. That focus is expedient in the sense that if the Bears can compete with the Bruins, the Trojans pose a far less formidable threat.

Still, past contests between Cal and USC have been heated. Going into their first game against the Trojans this season, it seemed the Bears were faced with their most evenly-matched league opponent, as the two hadn't seen a matchup decided by double digits since the 2005-2006 season.

Cal changed that with their 11-point victory. Yet in the games since Jan. 20, it is USC (15-8, 7-5) that appears a more consistent force in the Pac-10. The only team besides UCLA and Stanford with a winning conference record, the Trojans are fresh off a road sweep of the Oregon teams.


Alex Matthews covers women's basketball. Contact her at [email protected]

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