The freshmen have never competed in the Battle of the Bay. They are blissfully unaware of the heartache of a buzzer-beater loss and have yet to experience the sweet revenge of a blowout or a Pac-12 tournament victory over their rival. And all that was last season.
The Cardinal freshmen are naive to the emotions that accompany the program’s longest-standing rivalry or the pressure of extending the 71-21 advantage in the all-time series. What the freshmen are not lacking is game experience, or a crucial role in the title aspirations of No. 5 Stanford (13-1, 2-0 Pac-12).
“When you check in the game they don’t say, You’re a freshman, and you can play worse,” head coach Tara VanDerveer said after last game. “Either you get it done or you don’t get it done. And they get it done. So there are times when I look out there and I see three freshmen I’m like, ‘ooh,’ but I’m over that now.”
Stanford’s two regular-season meetings with California (8-5, 0-2 Pac-12) are Friday in Maples Pavilion and Sunday in Haas Pavilion. The Cardinal are seeking its fourth-straight 3-0 start to Pac-12 play, while the Bears search for their first conference win after being swept by the Washington schools in Berkeley last weekend.
Freshmen guard Haley Jones and forward Fran Belibi have both carved out spots in the starting lineup for the two most recent games — a fivesome that sprinted out to a 9-0 lead last game. Jones, the top-rated recruit of the class, has played the third-most minutes on the team with the third-most points and second-most assists per game.
In rebounds, Belibi is second, freshman forward Ashten Prechtel is fourth and Jones is fifth. In blocks, Jones is first, Prechtel third and Belibi fourth. Don’t forget freshman guard Hannah Jump, who leads the team in three-pointers and is fifth in the nation with her 48.3% mark from beyond the arc.
Jump also leads the team in points per minute, but all four freshmen have been remarkably efficient scorers. Excluding senior guard DiJonai Carrington — who has not played since the fifth game of the season due to injury — Belibi, Jones and Prechtel are fourth, fifth and sixth in points per minute, respectively.
All of this is to say — the freshmen have played an enormous role in the team’s success to start the season. Stanford is 20th in the country in scoring offense, averaging 78.9 points per game, and 18th in field goal percentage, shooting 46.5%. On defense, which VanDerveer has stressed, the Cardinal’s 33% field goal percentage defense is ninth in the sport.
For VanDerveer, it will be her first opportunity to coach against her former player and assistant Charmin Smith, who was promoted from within to take over the Cal head coaching position after the departure of Lindsay Gottlieb for the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.
Not only did Cal lose its head coach, but also saw its top four scorers depart. It was always supposed to be a rebuilding season, but early results such as a competitive game with current No. 1 UConn, and a win over then-No. 20 Arkansas saw Berkeley reach 7-2 on a seven-game win streak.
So far, Jaelyn Brown has led the charge with 15.6 points per game. CJ West has brought in 7.6 rebounds per game and Leilani McIntosh has 4.2 assists per game. All three individual performances are more than any Stanford player.
Friday’s game will tip-off at 7 p.m. PT from the Farm.
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.