Michelle Smith WBB Feature: Cal's Kristine Anigwe focused on the game ahead

Forty-six points from being the most prolific scorer in the history of her program.

Two and a half months from being a professional basketball player.

None of it is on Kristine Anigwe’s radar at this moment. Stanford is next. That’s all there is.

Except it’s not.

Anigwe and her Cal teammates are about to hit a crucial stretch of the season. Two straight games against the eighth-ranked Cardinal, followed by next weekend’s home games against No. 5 Oregon and No. 9 Oregon State. Four straight games against a top 10 team for a Bears squad looking to build momentum and solidify its spot in the top half of the Pac-12 standings. Cal opened the Pac-12 schedule 1-3, but has won three of its last four games to draw even at 4-4.

And the Bears, who have lost four of its last five matchups against Stanford, could use a big win heading into the second half of Pac-12 play. Stanford, which fell to Utah in Salt Lake City on Sunday to snap an 11-game losing streak, hasn't lost back-to-back conference games since 2015.

But Anigwe isn’t looking at those statistics any more than she's looking at the stretch run.

“I don’t want to get overwhelmed by looking at a stretch of big games,” Anigwe said. “All I want to think about is the next game, like ‘Ok, Stanford is a really good team. Let’s just go and compete.’ You can’t change who you are in a week. This is just another game in our path.”

Another game in which Anigwe will be the most dominant player on the floor. The player who has started from the moment she arrived in Berkeley, has reached her competitive peak as a senior. Anigwe is the nation’s leading rebounder (14.9 rebounds per game), with 20 consecutive double-doubles dating back to last season, the sixth-longest streak in Division I women’s basketball history. She is averaging 22.4 points a game, which ranks her second in the Pac-12 and she is on the verge of breaking Cal’s women’s basketball scoring record.

She has been Cal’s go-to player since she arrived. And she is the focal point of every opponent’s defensive effort.

But rather than ride the roller-coaster that Cal has been on during her time here, stretches of success contrasted by significant periods of frustration, Anigwe is looking to be her team’s constant.

“We have really good guard play, and shots are going to go in some games and sometimes they aren’t. When the shots don’t fall, how are we going to win?” Anigwe said. “We have to have balance and that’s my role. I’ve always had a big role. I had to learn fast. Other people have had time to grow into their role, but I was put into a big role from the moment I got here. Producing so much has come with a lot of responsibility.

“Now that I’m a senior, I understand that this is how it is. Now I have the experience.”

Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb called Anigwe’s season “incredible”, despite the team’s rockier moments, including a run of five losses in six games.

“I’ve said this throughout the year to Kristine and our guards and the media, that we are not going where we want to go without Kristine being exceptional, and with only Kristine being exceptional,” Gottlieb said. “We need good guard play. She will get her 20 (points) and 15 (rebounds), but our success and our non-success depends on what we are doing on defense and whether we are getting scoring from other people.”

On Sunday, against Colorado, in a game that the Bears needed to win, Angiwe finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds. But the Bears hit a season-high 11 3-pointers for a 20-point win over the Buffaloes.

“In our last game I didn’t have big numbers, but we were able to win because our guards made shots. When we made shots consistently, we are a totally different team,” Anigwe said. “I just want to win.

“Of course, nobody wants to start off conference play the way that we did, but we are where we are right now. In tough games, and tough situations, we need to be ready to play.”

And keep the eye right where it needs to be. Not on the record books, or the not-too-distant future. Just on the next game.

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. For previous Michelle Smith features on pac-12.com, visit the archives page.

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