Forgive me for my tardiness on this.
It’s actually been sitting on my hard drive for days, but – due to minor illness that kept me off my computer for a couple of days and a few personal matters to take care of – I just never had the chance to get it posted.
Perhaps that’s a TMI introduction.
Anyway, despite not publishing these points about Cal’s win, I did have thoughts, some of which I’ve discussed with friends, others which I alluded to in posting the thoughts of Cal fans like Nick from California Golden Blogs or Stanford fans like C&R; (forgive me again if there’s a perspective I’ve missed). So for those still interested in thinking about that game – and its ramifications for the Pac-12 and the national landscape – here are my three main takeaways.
Mikayla Lyles: It’s really difficult not to start a discussion about Cal’s win over Stanford without highlighting the play of Lyles. All season, the knock on Cal – and a primary reason why they’ve seen so many opponents play zone against them – is that they couldn’t shoot. Then there was that 2-for-21 3-point shooting nightmare last Tuesday. Enter Mikayla Lyles, who has a reputation for being able to knock down shots but, quite frankly, hasn’t so far this season. Entering yesterday’s game, Lyles was just 8-for-30 from 3-point range (26.6%) on the season, including a 1-for-4 3-point performance in last Tuesday’s game at Haas Pavilion. Over her first two seasons at Cal, she has only shot 28.6%. Granted, she has played so sparingly – never more than the 12.1 minutes per game she played in her freshman year – so the argument could be made that she just hasn’t had much chance to get a rhythm. But from an opponent’s perspective, you’re less likely to play reputation than three years of percentages. Even if you had the utmost faith in Lyles as a shooter, there was little way to predict her going for a career-highs of 14 points and 7 rebounds in 22 minutes, nearly twice her season average on the floor.
Lyles couldn’t have picked a better time to get hot and her teammates couldn’t have done much better a job of finding her, whether it was coming off of screens or on out of bounds plays. Yet Lyles’ shooting didn’t necessarily have the effect of making things easier on the Golden Bears’ post offense: forward Gennifer Brandon did score 14 points, but got a number of her scoring opportunities her 7 offensive rebounds and didn’t score in the second half. Neither Talia Caldwell nor Reshanda Gray had particularly effective scoring performances, combining for 4 points on 1-for-9 shooting. What Lyles’ shooting did accomplish was giving the team an extra scoring option on a day when scoring wasn’t coming easy.
Post defense on Chiney Ogwumike: In my preview of the Battle of the Bay I suggested that Gennifer Brandon’s defense would be a key factor, figuring that someone with her agility and length would be essential to containing Chiney Ogwumike, but the other side of that was the depth that Cal had in the post. Cal’s staff did an excellent job of rotating their posts in and out of the game in order to keep them fresh, which certainly helped. But it’s Reshanda Gray’s defense that was particularly impressive off the bench.
Of course, Gray wasn’t defending Ogwumike on an island when she was on the floor – her Cal teammates did a great job of bringing double teams and help to make Ogwumike’s job difficult. But Gray made her work to even establish position and that was an essential element of keeping Stanford’s offense off-balance. While that isn’t the sort of impact that will show up in the statistics,
Although Gray did have 4 fouls in each of Cal’s games against Stanford, that she was able to give her team as many minutes as she did in two games (27 on Tuesday and 18 on Sunday) is noteworthy in the broader context of her development as a player, particularly when coming off the bench to take an assignment like Ogwumike: last season, her freshman year, Gray fouled out five times in 19 minutes per game; she has yet to foul out this season. Even if she does get herself into foul trouble, if she’s able to stay in games long enough to play defense like she did against Stanford she’ll be a major asset to the team going forward.
Trapping defense: What was most impressive about Connecticut’s defensive game plan against Stanford was that they pressed and almost everywhere, which compounded their ability to force Cardinal players out of their comfort zone. We’ve already had a discussion about whether Cal should use their full court press more often against Stanford prior to Sunday’s game – and Shannon rightly brought up the discussion from a last year about why pressing Stanford is so difficult – and it’s worth noting that they didn’t actually use it much. But they did aggressively trap the ball more often and force players other than Oguwmike to make plays; unfortunately (for the Cardinal) those other players didn’t make plays. Perhaps Cal didn’t have the personnel to use a full court press against Stanford, but they were able to execute the trapping aspect of Connecticut’s scheme to great effect.
What exactly can we take away from this game? That’s a story that will probably unfold more clearly as the Pac-12 season wears on. Obviously it doesn’t prove that the Bears are better than the Cardinal – they split their home-and-home Battle of the Bay series – and, honestly, losing to another top team in the nation doesn’t prove that Stanford isn’t elite, even with their loss to Connecticut.
For more on Cal’s win over Stanford, check out our Battle of the Bay storystream.