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Frisco Del Rosario writes about chess960, women's basketball, minor league baseball, unsupported collectible card games, lettering in comic books, and Golden Age movies

Cal is 4-0 on the eve of their Cal Classic 11/24/2016

Pacific,Logo_GoldenBear_wht California, and St. Mary’s are all hosting four-teams-for-two-days tournaments this Thanksgiving weekend. Each of those schools is among my favorite basketball venues, and as it happens, each tournament invited an additional team on my beat: Santa Clara is at Pacific, San Francisco is at Cal, and Utah is at St. Mary’s.

It’s a predicament, but there is one heavily-weighted tiebreaker in favor of Berkeley: Haas Pavilion is a six-block walk from the BART station downtown, while McKeon Pavilion in Moraga and Spanos Center in Stockton make for treacherous driving conditions even under the best weather.

So I shan’t see Coach Lynne Roberts and her Utah Utes, which is disappointing, because I think Roberts has never looked happier than she does now during her second season in Salt Lake City. Her first four seasons at Pacific were very rough, but she built a Big West Conference champion from scraps, for which she’s rewarded by promotion to the powerful Pac-12.

Utah is 8th in the Pac-12 preseason media poll, which will suit a Roberts group just fine — her teams aren’t happy unless they’re underdogs. When her 2013 Pacific team was crushing opponents, even I was feeling a bit like “well, yeah, but this would be more fun if it were unexpected”.

Cal is predicted to finish in the middle of the Pac-12, a reasonable jump to expect from last season’s 4-14 shock, but a long, long way from 2013’s 16-1 Final Four.

I’ve seen the undefeated Golden Bears three times. I thought they looked disarrayed on opening night at St. Mary’s — Cal’s defense is at its best when it is swarming and stretching and coercing turnovers, but it seemed to me that when the Gaels lost the handle on the ball, there just happened to be a Bear nearby to pick it up and run. You can stick to “luck is the residue of good design”, but sometimes perhaps it’s just bouncing the right way.

They didn’t look so sharp three nights later at home against Santa Clara, either — until the second half, when they routinely capitalized on greater athleticism, lobbing the ball toward the basket with an expectation that a Golden Bear would come down with it. Cal scored 40 points in the paint, and won the second half by 18 — final 73-58.

On 11/20 vs. Cal St. Bakersfield, the Bears took advantage of the Roadrunners’ aim to open the floor end-to-end. Cal assisted on 23 of 34 field goals, while stifling every Roadrunner but one — CSUB forward Aja Williams scored 35 of their 63 points against 86 for the host Bears.

It was the second straight 20-plus-10 game for sophomore forward Kristine Anigwe. “She makes some extraordinary things look ordinary,” said Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “We’ve raised our expectations of her, which is pretty remarkable — we expect 20 and 10 from her, but now we’re asking her for more.”

The thing Cal really did right during those three games was improve noticeably. They were sloppy at St. Mary’s, better in the second half vs. Santa Clara, and getting it well together while routing Bakersfield. “We’re trying to get a little better with each game,” said Gottlieb, who cited her team’s defense against CSUB and particularly their shot selection: “We show them that this is what the great teams — Golden State and San Antonio — do: giving up good shots to get great shots.”

Next for Cal is the first round of the Cal Classic on Friday vs. San Francisco. The Dons were the hugely-surprising winners of the West Coast Conference tournament last March, going in as the #6 seed before beating #3, #2, and #1 to earn the berth in the NCAA tournament. Then coach Jennifer Azzi dropped a bomb, resigning seven weeks before the start of the 2017 season, replaced by Molly Goodenbour (who probably hadn’t furnished her new office at Cal State Hayward before leaving for USF) — I’m pleased; as much as I liked Coach Azzi, Coach Goodenbour has been a good story wherever she goes.

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