(via goldenbearsports.com)

Cal Women’s Basketball Preview: A Look at the Roster and Final Thoughts

(via goldenbearsports.com)

The Women’s Basketball team had a very successful exhibition match against the NAIA’s Vanguard Lions last week, nearly scoring 100 points and promising play from the freshmen. With the season officially underway Sunday at Vanguard, it is time for Golden Bear Lair’s look at the roster and why you should be excited for the upcoming season.

First off, I should note that Golden Bear Lair now has access to postgame press conferences for Women’s games and I did attend the one for Vanguard and will hopefully attend a few during nonconference play (not likely the home opener however). I wasn’t able to film it and I was getting my feet wet, so I didn’t ask anything, but it is a great perk that I will take full advantage of as we get to the heart of the season.
One of the things I can tell you is that I saw Brittany Boyd, Gennifer Brandon and Lindsay Gottlieb show a lot of love for each other and an understanding that they got something special on their hands at this moment. To see what I mean, you can watch the press conference yourself and skip to the 9 minute mark. Of course bonds and camaraderie are not enough to win championships, but look at the talent and depth on this roster and this team can do things very soon. The coaches don’t disagree either, picking Cal to finish third in the Pac-12. Cal also received votes in the AP and USA Today polls.

GUARDS: Brittany Boyd, Layshia Clarendon, Avigiel Cohen, Afure Jemerigbe, Erika Johnson, Mikayla Lyles, Eliza Pierre, Tierra Rogers, Lindsay Sherbert

Layshia Clarendon, the leading scorer for Cal last year, returns for her junior season and doesn’t show any reasons to doubt that she won’t be as effective this year. She was an honorable mention in the All-Pac-10 team last year and will help mentor Brittany Boyd and Erika Johnson.

Another returning junior guard is Eliza Pierre. It is always fun to watch her play with such ferocity despite her size. She was on the Pac-10 All-Defensive team in her prior two years and led the conference with 90 steals last season. She needs to keep that up if we want to see the Bears compete against the top tier teams on their schedule. (And of course by that I mean Stanford)

More returning players include sophomores Mikayla Lyles and Afure Jemerigbe, who played on the Nigerian national team over the summer. Both players are solid backups and give the team great depth. We will also see our first real look at Avigiel Cohen from Israel, who didn’t play last season because of knee surgery. Lindsay Sherbert is our most promising sophomore and a reliable 3-point shooter, hitting 49 last season. Expect her to improve on her 8 points-a-game average from last year and be a more consistent threat outside.

The freshmen are Brittany Boyd and Erika Johnson and they were exciting to watch last Thursday. Boyd was running down the field playing very hard and Boyd specifically showed a lot of speed and toughness getting to the basket. It’ll be fun seeing how she fares against non-NAIA competition.

FORWARDS/CENTERS: Gennifer Brandon, Reshanda Gray, Justine Hartman, Talia Caldwell

A big positive for the Bears this year is that they get Gennifer Brandon back. She was injured and didn’t play last year, and her rebounding was severely missed. (She led all Pac-10 freshmen in 2010) Hopefully she will stay healthy this year and is a huge contributor, and will take some of the sting of losing Denesha Stallworth to transfer over the offseason.

The two freshmen Reshanda Gray and Justine Hartman are highly touted. I’ve written about them before so it’s been documented here how promising their careers are. I saw Hartman take a pretty bad fall at the end of the exhibition game last Thursday but it appears she will be alright. Each of them scored at least 10 points in the game, and they combined for 14 rebounds. Five of which were offensive rebounds by Reshanda.

Talia Caldwell is the only true center, and even she’s been labeled a forward at times, and she shows a lot of skill in rebounding. As you can see, good rebounding is a strength on this team. She led the conference in offensive rebounds averaging four a game. I look for her to be strong in the middle and hope to see improved defense.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Overall, as I just said, rebounding is a huge strength on the team. The issue last year was a sudden inability to make field goals and that resulted in a seven game losing streak during conference play, including a few to some weaker opponents, like the Washington schools and Oregon.

It was tough to believe that two years ago this team would make it to the NCAA tournament, but they came close and were able to win the WNIT. Last year expectations were raised and the Bears could not deliver. I did not think Joanne Boyle should have been let go but it was clear there were some leadership issues and some of the players were vocal about the coaching staff not being relatable. With Boyle leaving to Virginia, that appeared to be a blessing in disguise, and it became even more so when we got a coach like Lindsay Gottlieb.

She has transformed the team dramatically and we haven’t even played a real game yet. Seeing her communicating well with the fans and players just gets me really excited. Also, have you seen the Cal Women’s Basketball official website yet? Because it is awesome! It has biographies of the players and just makes you fall in love with the team.

There may be some people thinking “It’s just women’s basketball. Who cares?” although likely you didn’t get to this part of the article. Let me just say, this is my fifth year following both basketball teams. I remember watching the disappointing 2008 Men’s team while the women’s team were dominant. It was 2009 that I really started watching every single conference game for both teams, and I enjoyed the women’s game just as much as the men’s game. I saw competition, thrilling finishes, and exciting storylines. To me, the slam dunks and alley-oops were just extra. Then again, you can also find me at Cal Softball, Cal Soccer, Cal Water Polo, and Field Hockey games among others. I just love my school (even before I actually became a student in 2009!) It’s unlikely I would care so much about a women’s basketball team if I didn’t go here, but the thought of telling me I shouldn’t care about the well-being of one of my school’s teams just doesn’t sit right with me.

I hope people give the team a chance this year. They will reward you.

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