Women's Basketball Game of the Week Preview: No. 19 Cal at No. 17 Arizona State

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Who: No. 19 Cal at No. 17 Arizona State

When: Saturday, Jan. 2, at 4 p.m. PT/5 p.m. MT, with Ann Schatz, Chiney Ogwumike and Kyndra de St. Aubin on the call.

With impressive non-conference campaigns in their back pockets, top-20 foes Cal and Arizona State lift the lid on the Pac-12 season with conference championship aspirations.

Non-Conference Review: Cal (9-2, 0-0 Pac-12)

Sure, the talent was there in Berkeley, and then some. But when you have to replace three starters and four of your starting five are underclassmen, you don’t quite know what you’re going to get. It didn’t take long for Lindsay Gottlieb to figure out how good her Golden Bears could be, however, as Cal took down No. 8 Louisville on the road to open the season behind double-doubles from Courtney Range and Mikayla Cowling. The win vaulted Cal into the top 25 and the Golden Bears climbed up to 16 before suffering losses to Texas A&M and St. Mary’s in a three-game span (neither loss is all that detrimental, as both the Aggies and Gaels are top-50 RPI teams – concerning St. Mary’s, the WCC is a force to be reckoned with; just ask Stanford about losing to Santa Clara).

Before rounding out non-league play with a resounding win over Cal State Northridge, the Golden Bears edged UCLA 108-104 in double-overtime in a non-conference game for the ages. Despite finishing the game with just five available players due to a couple of foul-outs, Cal willed its way to an all-time triumph on the back of Range (29 points, 12 rebounds and 5 assists), fighting past big shots from UCLA’s Jordin Canada that could have sucked the life out of the Golden Bears.

The bench has been short for Gottlieb this year –just seven players average more than 11 minutes of court time – but the talent and want-to are long.

Non-Conference Review: Arizona State (9-3, 0-0 Pac-12)

After a series of close losses to top-notch opponents, Charli Turner Thorne’s Sun Devils finally got over the hump near the end of the non-con season. Arizona State lost in overtime to No. 18 Kentucky and dropped a two-point decision to No. 2 South Carolina in Hawai’I in two of their first three games but bounced back with a solid road win at No. 19 Syracuse in December before heading off into the short Christmas break by upending No. 10 Florida State behind a career-high 23 points from Arnecia Hawkins (more on her later).

Picked to finish third in a deeper-than-usual Pac-12, Arizona State has positioned itself well looking forward to March as long as it does what it is expected to in January and February. Ranked 28th in the RPI (as of Jan. 1), Turner Thorne’s group has gotten it done with its pressure defense that has allowed just 54.3 points per game (third in the Pac-12) and forced 18.5 turnovers per contest (fourth in the Pac-12).

The Sun Devils will be tested early in conference play – after hosting the Bay Area schools, Arizona State will hit the road to take on the Washington schools, starting with Kelsey Plum (the nation’s leading scorer) and the Huskies.

Three Players to Watch: Cal

  1. #31 Kristine Anigwe (6’4 Forward, Freshman)- Anigwe came to Berkeley with a lot of fanfare as the No. 1 post player in the country and No. 8 overall recruit by ESPN HoopGurlz, and she has more than lived up to the billing thus far. Second in the country among freshmen at 22.2 points per game, Anigwe has been named Pac-12 Freshman of the Week five times already, and is unsurprisingly the reigning conference newcomer of the week after going off for 25 points and 10 boards in the win over UCLA. She had her string of four straight double-doubles broken against Cal State Northridge, a game in which she only produced 30 points and six boards.
  2. #24 Courtney Range (6’3 Forward, Junior)- Anigwe might have earned conference recognition for her work against the Bruins, but it was Range who had the best statistical game for the Golden Bears with 29 points and 12 rebounds, not to mention the game-winning jumper in the final 30 seconds of double overtime. Courtney’s got range, as she is shooting a hefty 46 percent from distance on 1.6 makes per game.
  3. #33 Gabby Green (6’2 Guard, Sophomore)- Yes, it was Cal State Northridge (2-11 on the season after the loss), but Green recorded a triple-double in the 106-44 beat-down of the Matadors Wednesday night with 11 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds (14 assists is more than a lot of college teams average per game). A mainstay in Gottlieb’s lineup, Green has started all 45 games of her collegiate career thus far and leads the Golden Bears with 5.6 dimes per contest.

Three Players to Watch: Arizona State

  1. #1 Arnecia Hawkins (5’10 Guard, Senior)- She has shown flashes of brilliance and game throughout her career, but the senior has started to really excel with nobody in front of her in the starting lineup.  Hawkins is second on the team at 10.6 points per game in her increased minutes (from 13.7 minutes last year to 22.3 minutes this year) and her aforementioned 23-point game against the Seminoles earned her Ann Meyers Drysdale Women’s National Player of the Week honors, not to mention being named the Pac-12 Player of the Week. When Kelsey Moos and Sophie Brunner went down earlier in the season with injuries (Brunner is back, Moos missed the last game), Hawkins was instrumental in providing the punch offensively.
  2. #0 Katie Hempen (5’9 Guard, Redshirt Senior)- Simply put, Hempen got stroke. The SIU Edwardsville transfer leads the team with 23 made three-pointers and is connecting on 44 percent of her long-distance attempts. Despite being in only her third year playing for the Sun Devils, she needs just 19 threes to pass Kylan Loney as Arizona State’s all-time leader in made triples. Besides that, she just knows how to hoop.
  3. #22 Quinn Dornstauder (6’4 Center, Junior)- There’s nothing like some good ole’ rim protection, and Dornstauder provides that with a team-leading 22 blocks (1.83 per game, which is good for fifth in the Pac-12). And oh yeah, she leads the team in scoring at 10.8 points per outing after being the team’s leading scorer off the bench last season, so that certainly doesn’t hurt.

Three Notes to Know

  1. Dangerous from Distance: Cal has three players – Courtney Range, Mikayla Cowling and Asha Thomas – who shoot at least 42 percent from downtown. As a team, Cal shoots 39 percent from beyond the arc, which is somewhat surprisingly only fourth in the Pac-12 (Oregon is hitting a whopping 43 percent of its three-point attempts).
  2. Improving Offensively- All Steve Rodriguez (ASU women’s basketball SID) on this note – after shooting just 38 percent from the floor and 29 percent from three in their first seven games, the Sun Devils are shooting 47 percent from the field and 41 percent from distance in their last five. That last five includes games against ranked foes Syracuse and Florida State, so the schedule didn’t really fall off.
  3. Conference of RPI Champions- Ever since Washington coach Mike Neighbors laid out the formula to non-conference scheduling success to his coaching colleagues in the Pac-12 at the 2013 Final Four, the Pac-12 has seen an upswing in NCAA tournament berths. One of Neighbors’ main keys is that each Pac-12 team should get eight or nine non-conference wins, and in the pre-Pac slate this season, only Colorado didn’t achieve that feat. As such, the Pac-12 is sitting pretty come Selection Monday, positioning itself for another five-bid (or more) season. As of Jan. 1, five Pac-12 teams are in the RPI top 30, eight are in the top 60, 10 are in the top 100 and no team is below the top 125.
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