Women face UCLA in first round of Pac-10 Tournament
EUGENE, Ore. – Cal goes into the first Pac-10 Women’s Basketball Tournament hoping the third time’s the charm against UCLA.
The Golden Bears, the No. 9 seed at the tournament hosted by the University of Oregon, face a familiar first-round opponent tonight in the Bruins, who are seeded eighth. UCLA defeated Cal a week ago, 58-48, in Los Angeles, and swept both games from the Bears during the regular season.
The two teams play alike – they both defend well and don’t score many points. Cal (7-20, 2-16 Pac-10) and UCLA (8-19, 4-14) also have two of the poorest records in the conference.
UCLA’s Natalie Nakase is hoping for three in a row against Cal.
“I think they want at least one victory against us,” she said, “but I don’t think they’re going to get it here.”
The Bruin guard provided more bulletin-board material, adding, “I can’t wait to play Stanford.” Top-seeded Stanford awaits the winner of the Cal-UCLA game.
Nakase has reason to be confident. The Bears shot a woeful 22.6 percent from the field in the last meeting with the Bruins and shot 30.4 percent in the earlier meeting, a 64-48 loss on Dec. 30 in Berkeley.
UCLA didn’t do much better. The Bruins shot 33.3 percent in the first matchup and 33.8 percent in the second.
Cal head coach Caren Horstmeyer says, without going into details, her team will add a defensive wrinkle for tonight’s game. UCLA’s Whitney Jones averaged 12.5 points in the two games, but it’s not as if Cal’s defense has been bad. Cal also outrebounded UCLA 44-36 and 49-48, respectively.
Olga Volkova could help the Bears if she’s on the floor. Cal’s 6-foot-4 center has been out for seven games because she’s nursing an ankle injury and has been deemed ineligible by the NCAA, which is investigating whether the club Volkova played with back in Ukraine was an amateur or professional team. As of early Thursday, Cal believed Volkova was eligible for tonight’s game.
One of the keys to victory is beating the UCLA zone. UCLA predominantly played in a 2-3 zone against Cal the second time around. The Bears, who shot 2-of-23 from 3-point land, could not bust the zone from the perimeter. Cal hopes crisper ball movement and pushing the tempo will lead to better results.
“Ultimately, we need to beat the zone down the floor in transition,” Horstmeyer said. “We need to get some easy baskets.”
The Bears need to loosen the defense around post player Ami Forney, who scored just 3 points in the second game. Cal’s senior center was a force in the first game, however, scoring a game-high 18 points and pulling down 10 boards.
Kristin Iwanaga could be the X-factor. The point guard is the Bears best 3-point shooter at 43.4 percent and ranks third in Pac-10 free throw shooting at 85.9 percent. If Iwanaga can get it going, Cal has a chance to make Nakase eat her words.