Pac-12 feature: Anigwe is the most improved Golden Bear
Cal coach Lindsey Gottlieb says that Kristine Anigwe will probably end up as “the best player I’ve ever coached.”
“She’s incredibly driven and she cares so much,” Gottlieb said. “I’ve talked to her thousands of times about many different things. And when I talk to her, I remind her to believe in that.”
Anigwe is a sophomore, but not just any sophomore. The Phoenix native is coming off a stellar individual debut season which culminated in her being named the WBCA National Freshman of the Year.
And so, in her second year as a college basketball, the spotlight will burn very bright.
“I am just playing,” Anigwe said. “Last year, I didn’t know I’d get the national freshman of the year award. I just want to play every single game as hard as I can. I care about that more than individual accomplishments.”
She cares, for example, about how well she’s passing out of the double- and triple-teams that are greeting her regularly now when she gets the ball in the paint. She cares about how hard she runs the floor, and how well she is playing on the defensive end. She cares about hitting mid-range shots and expanding her offensive game.
And she cares, most of all, about helping the Bears rebound from last year’s roller-coaster season and return to their place among the best teams in the country.
Cal is 4-0 to start the season heading into the annual Cal Classic Thanksgiving Tournament, which opens Friday against USF.
The Bears jumped out to a 9-2 start last season, with impressive wins over Louisville, Nebraska and UCLA. But the wheels came off once the Pac-12 slate began and the Bears finished with a 4-14 conference record, the program’s worst mark in conference play in 11 years. Cal finished with a run to the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals, but missed out on a postseason berth with a 15-17 overall record.
“We are definitely motivated by last season,” said Anigwe, who averaged 20.5 points and 9.3 rebounds a game last season. “We were young, and we faced a lot of adversity, a lot of injuries and we played through that and found our way at the end of the season. But we rebuilt ourselves and our program. We are playing better and playing for each other.”
Gottlieb said her team – and Anigwe – are better for that experience.
“None of us would want to do it again, but we don’t regret going through it,” Gottlieb said. “This is a veteran group. They experienced success and struggle last year. And they are hungry for the good stuff.”
Four games into the season, Anigwe is averaging 20.5 points and 9.8 rebounds a game, leading the Bears in both categories.
Gottlieb said she sees a player who has not only improved her skills, but is smarter, in better shape and more mature.
“She’s made a huge jump,” Gottlieb said. “She had a wildly successful freshman year, and that’s because she has so much talent and instinct. But now she’s added a base of knowledge of our offense, of timing. She knows how to practice. And maturity-wise, she is learning what it means to be the star player, what it means to have people game-planning around you. In a lot of ways, she’s our most improved player.”
Great news for the Bears, maybe not so much for everybody else.
Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for pac-12.com. She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, the San Francisco Chronicle and AOL Fanhouse.