(Photo: Brooke Faber/WCSN)
After getting back on track with a pair of wins over No. 14 UCLA and USC last weekend, the No. 9 Arizona State Sun Devils will travel to the Bay Area this week, beginning with a matchup against the Cal Golden Bears on Friday night.
The Sun Devils (20-4, 11-1 Pac-12) are coming off of two close games against the Los Angeles schools. Against UCLA, Katie Hempen’s 20 points were enough to boost ASU to a four-point victory, while at USC, it was the late-game heroics of Sophie Brunner that gave the Sun Devils a one-point win.
The wins were much needed for the Sun Devils after a big loss to Oregon State a few weeks ago and allow them to stay tied for the top spot in the conference with the Beavers.
Cal (11-12, 2-10 Pac-12) had big expectations coming into the conference season. With names like Mikayla Cowling, Courtney Range and freshman sensation Kristine Anigwe on the roster, the Golden Bears were ranked and maintained a 9-2 record as they entered Pac-12 play.
Unfortunately for the Golden Bears, things haven’t gone quite as planned.
Cal has struggled immensely in conference play, going an abysmal 2-10, with its only two wins coming over conference bottom-dwellers Colorado and Washington State. They are currently on a three-game losing streak after dropping a game to Washington and losing both ends of a home-and-home with Stanford.
However, the silver lining for the Golden Bears has been freshman center Anigwe’s stellar play throughout the year. Despite being on such an underperforming team, Anigwe was just recently one of only two freshmen to be named to the Naismith midseason top 30, the watch list for the award given to the nation’s top player.
Despite a disappointing season, Cal is a team with a lot of talent on the roster, and this game has all the makings of a trap game for ASU. The Sun Devils will need to be careful as they travel to Berkeley to take on these Golden Bears.
Keys to the Game:
Don’t let up
Cal has some of the most talented individual players in the entire conference on their roster, and despite the fact that they haven’t quite been able to put it all together in conference play this season, they have as much potential as any other team to pull off an upset on any given night. It will be absolutely essential for ASU to stay focused and not come into the game with the attitude that it will be a guaranteed win, because there’s no such thing in the Pac-12.
Contain Kristine Anigwe
Anigwe, arguably the top freshman in not only the Pac-12 but the entire country, has been the star for Cal this season. She’s second in the conference in scoring with 19.7 points per game while also coming it at fifth in rebounding, pulling down 9.3 rebounds per game.
The most impressive aspect of the young freshman though, has been her efficiency. Anigwe takes smart shots and makes them count, resulting in a 56.8 percent field goal percentage, good for second best in the conference. Shutting down Anigwe is the key to stifling what Cal does as a team, and juniors Sophie Brunner and Quinn Dornstauder will need to be up to the challenge on Friday night.
Take good shots
Cal has the second worst scoring defense in the conference this season, allowing 67.3 points per game. The Sun Devils have struggled offensively recently, but with a favorable matchup against the Golden Bears, this could be their opportunity to get going on the offensive end of the court. ASU needs to work the ball around and find the open shooter, but more importantly it needs to capitalize on the opportunities it does find in order to avoid the upset.
The X-factor for this game is freshman guard Sabrina Haines. Haines, a local product out of Desert Vista high school in Phoenix, has consistently been one of the best on the team this season at creating her own shot, but she’s been very quiet over this recent stretch of games. In the last three games, Haines has had just 12 points combined, including two points on a 1-for-5 shooting performance against UCLA. With the ASU offense needing a boost, Haines’ performance could be key in this matchup with Cal.
Cal is a very talented team, but hasn’t been able to put it all together this season. Anigwe is an unbelievable talent and will almost definitely pose problems against any team that she plays, and the Golden Bears do have the advantage of being at home. With all that being said, I think ASU’s pair of close games this past weekend helped show them that close games will come and that they are very capable of handling them.
The Sun Devils will get out to a double-digit lead by halftime and coast through the second half for a 10-point victory over the Golden Bears.