Women's Championship Preview
By Kevin Danna
The Bay schools have held the top two spots in the conference standings for the last month and change. Thus, it's only fitting these squads meet again in the Pacific Life Pac-12 Tournament championship to settle once and for all who the league's matriarch truly is.
It's a position Stanford has assumed for quite some time, winners of 12 consecutive regular season titles and five straight conference tournament titles. A No. 1-seed all but awaits the 30-1 Stanford Cardinal in the NCAA Tournament regardless of the outcome of Saturday's game. Legendary head coach Tara VanDerveer has her young women poised to make another deep tournament run.
Cal, on the other hand, is a program on the rise, jumping four spots in the conference standings from last year en route to a 24-8 record entering the title bout and also assured of an at-large bid at worst. On the opposite end of the experience spectrum, first-year head coach Lindsay Gottlieb has lit a fire underneath the Golden Bears from the moment she stepped on campus. You'll notice right from the jump her team plays with a lot of passion, enthusiasm and swagger.
Match-up to watch: To borrow a term from my broadcast partner Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, it's going to be a battle of the boards in the Battle of the Bay. This game features four of the conference's top 15 rebounders in Nneka (10.4 rpg) and Chiney Ogwumike (10.3 rpg) of Stanford and Gennifer Brandon (10 rpg) and Talia Caldwell (6.9 rpg) of Cal. Both teams had dominating rebounding performances in their semi-final victories Friday, as Stanford out-rebounded Arizona State 48-28 in a 52-43 victory over the Sun Devils, while the Golden Bears corralled 59 caroms to Washington State's 25 to knock off the Cougs 64-49.
Key to the Game: How well can Stanford's perimeters handle Cal's electric backcourt? Stanford sophomore Toni Kokenis and freshman Amber Orrange are solid, quick guards who make good decisions with the rock in their hands. Both can also shoot the mid-range jumper effectively, while Kokenis can additionally step back for three. However, Cal's Eliza Pierre and Brittany Boyd are the heart and soul of the Golden Bear locomotive, applying tremendous on-ball pressure. Boyd's 2.5 steals per contest is third in the country, and Pierre averages 1.2 thefts off the bench. Plus, when you add stealthy scorer Layshia Clarendon into the mix, it's a handful for even the best of backcourts to deal with. Stanford will go as far in March as their perimeters can take them, and in two games against Cal this year, Toni Kokenis averaged 20.5 points in two Cardinal victories.