Pac-12 Feature: Cal's Anigwe prepares to face top posts in the country
Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb didn’t hold back when it came to talking about Kristine Anigwe. How could she?
“What she’s doing is remarkable, more than any freshman we’ve ever had here,” Gottlieb said. “Her ability to consistently produce at this level right away, as a post player, is unreal.”
And it may well be unprecedented. The Bears first-year post player is only three weeks into her first Pac-12 season and she’s already tied the conference record for Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors after being named for the seventh time on Monday.
Anigwe ranks second in the Pac-12 in scoring, averaging 21.9 points a game and fourth in rebounding at 9.8. She is the second-highest scoring freshman in Division I women’s basketball.
The 6-foot-4 Phoenix, Arizona native has led the Bears in scoring in 10 games this season, and in each of the last five. She will face perhaps the biggest challenge of her career so far when she leads the struggling Bears, off to a 1-3 start in conference play, into a defining road trip into Oregon this weekend, matching up against Oregon State star center Ruth Hamblin and Oregon standout Jillian Alleyne.
“This is a huge challenge,” Gottlieb said. “These two players back-to-back, it’s as daunting as it gets.”
Anigwe admitted her collegiate debut has gone better than she imagined.
“It’s pretty much beyond what I dreamed about,” Anigwe said.
Anigwe was the top-regarded post player in the country when she arrived in Berkeley, two years after she gave her verbal commitment to the Bears.
“I knew she was the best post on the West Coast when she committed and that she had a lot of potential, but she went from potential to the best post in the class,” Gottlieb said. “She had experience with USA Basketball (in the summer of 2014) and she walked on to campus more able to handle the things thrown at her at the college level than I expected.”
Anigwe said her experience two summers ago with USA Basketball, helping the U-17 team win a gold medal in the World Championships, was pivotal.
This past summer, she stayed home in Arizona, training to get herself ready. Former Stanford star and WNBA veteran Kayla Pedersen provided invaluable advice.
“She talked to me about the importance of being well-conditioned,” Anigwe said. “Looking at playing time, I knew if I wanted to play, I would need to be well-conditioned. I knew I would need to make my free throws because I would be getting fouled.”
Anigwe said she is relishing her opportunity to face the Oregon stars this coming weekend. Alleyne, who has 13 double-doubles this season (tied for the national lead) needs 22 rebounds to take over the Pac-12 career rebounding record from Stanford’s Chiney Ogwumike. And Hamblin is one of the country’s top shot blockers, leading the Pac-12 with 3.0 blocks per game.
Anigwe’s ability to match up against two of the best posts in the country in back-to-back games may well determine whether Cal can pick up some momentum after a rocky start.
“Both of these players are going to go high in the WNBA Draft and they are two of the best players out there,” Anigwe said. “I understand I’m a freshman, but I’m getting mentally and physically prepared. We need to play Cal basketball.”
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.