By Tom Taylor
This weekend the Stanford women’s basketball team faces cross-Bay rival California in a crucial contest at home.
On a 14-game undefeated streak that stretches back to an early-season loss to Connecticut, the Cardinal (17-1, 8-0 Pac-12) is guaranteed to still lead the Pac-12 on Saturday, but this could be the toughest test at Maples so far this season. After recovering from two losses in Los Angeles in the opening weekend of Pac-12 play, California (15-5, 6-2 Pac-12) has won six straight and sits in the second spot in the conference.
Should Cal want to keep dreams of an inaugural Pac-12 conference title alive, it will surely need to defeat Stanford on Saturday. A win would put the Golden Bears just one game behind the leaders — with the return leg of the Battle of the Bay still to play in March — and the would keep its fate still in Cal’s hands, but a three-game deficit against a team like the Cardinal would seem almost impossible to get back. Though the Golden Bears hold the honor of being both the last Pac-12 team to have beaten the Card, in a 57-54 win in Berkeley in January 2009, and the last Pac-12 team to have left Maples Pavilion victorious, after a 72-57 victory in February 2007. Stanford has not lost three or more games in the conference since the 2003-04 season.
Due to the Pac-12’s 18-game schedule the Card played the two Washington schools for the only time last weekend, and so, as the ninth game Stanford will have played, this contest also marks the half-way point in the conference. The clock is definitely ticking for any team that wants to take the title away from the Farm.
While the Bears are led in points-per-game by junior guard Layshia Clarendon, who is 15th in scoring in the Pac-12 with 10.9, Stanford can rely on its dominant sisters — senior forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike and sophomore forward Chiney Ogwumike, first with 22.9 points per game and seventh with 19.1, respectively. However, a key area where Cal may have an advantage could be rebounding. Golden Bear redshirt sophomore Gennifer Brandon is only narrowly second in boards per game (11.0) to Nnemkadi Ogwumike (11.2), and Berkeley leads the Pac-12 in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentages.
First-year Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb will still need to find a way to deal with Stanford’s star sisters. Chiney Ogwumike recorded her seventh and eighth double-doubles against the Washington schools last weekend and was named Bank of the West Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Player of the Week for the second-straight week. The player she deposed a fortnight back was her sibling Nnemkadi Ogwumike, who comes into the rivalry game this weekend needing just five points to tie for fourth on Stanford’s all-time scoring list with Val Whiting.
Even holding these two quiet might not work, however. When Oregon attempted that, the Card punished the Ducks from outside, sinking 14 three-pointers. Since that contest the Card has struggled from beyond the arc, but freshman forward Taylor Greenfield’s 4-for-5 from outside against Washington perhaps signals that the drought is coming to an end.
Stanford is set to take on Cal at 2 p.m. this Saturday at Maples Pavilion.