For the third time this season, the California Golden Bears will get a shot to upset their local rival, this time with the first-ever Pac-12 tournament championship on the line.
Day Four Schedule
Games on FSN/CSNBA.
Game 11: (1) Stanford Cardinal vs. (2) California Golden Bears
Brief preview & players to watch
Even as we were leaving Haas Pavilion on Sunday, there was a not-so-subtle feeling that Cal would get one more shot to prove themselves against Stanford; today's game is pretty much what many Pac-12 fans expected.
But looking ahead to this game, it's not immediately obvious that either the first or second meeting is really indicative of what we might see today.
In the first game at Maples Pavilion, Cal gave up a season-high 42 rebounds - including a combined 27 to the Ogwumike sisters - but Stanford shot a then-season low 3-for-20 from 3-point range (and by virtue of shooting so many it was by far their worst 3-point shooting performance of the season). Individually, Cal point guard Brittany Boyd came up huge with 19 points and hit a number of the jumpers that Stanford dared her to take forcing them to adjust defensively. Cal's press was used at the end of the game and successfully caught Stanford off-guard to force overtime.
The second game at Haas Pavilion, things were almost opposite. Boyd wasn't particularly good, as a driving or shooting scorer. Genifer Brandon and Eliza Pierre were the only two Cal players to score in double digits, combining for 21 of the team's 61 points. Stanford's current 27.2% 3-point shooting ranks 11th in the Pac-12 (including tournament games) but they shot 40% against Cal and made more threes in the first 10 minutes than they did in the entirety of the first meeting. Joslyn Tinkle had post moves and 5 blocks, which...is uncharacteristic.
Yet the one thing that both meetings had in common was the rebounding situation. The Cardinal only won the offensive rebounding battle by a narrow margin in the second game and didn't score a whole lot of second chance points but that was the big question before the Big Game: can Cal beat Stanford if Stanford beats Cal on the boards? So far the answer - as academic as it might seem - is "no".
Even if rebounding percentage wasn't a big deal in the second game, it does point to another major theme in the first two games: Cal just can't establish much of anything inside against Stanford. And as strong as the 6-foot-3 Tinkle has been playing in the paint recently, it's only going to get tougher. That puts an enormous amount of pressure on Cal's perimeter players, who are capable but used to relying more heavily on their post play.
I yesterday's scare against the Washington State Cougars, we saw were Cal thrives - if they're not dominating the boards for second chance points - they had a +45% offensive rebounding percentage advantage against WSU - they're getting hard drives to the basket to score in the paint. When a team like Stanford takes away that interior advantage - whether it be rebounding or allowing Boyd and Clarendon to make entry passes to the posts - Cal struggles mightily. And with Cal needing perimeter scoring to carry them in that situation, they face a dilemma.
Boyd vs. Clarendon vs. Pierre
Cal has three guards that give them very specific and distinct things that Cal needs to win against Stanford. The reason Boyd would be my choice for Pac-12 Freshman of the Year - with no slight to Washington Huskies guard Jazmine Davis - is that she controls the tempo, makes plays for others, and runs the offense better than any player on Cal and you could almost argue the best of any in the conference. Clarendon is their most dynamic perimeter scorer, who's able to get her shot better than any guard they have. Pierre is one the best defenders in the conference. Take any one of those players out and Cal loses something.
The problem is that Boyd, as a freshman, is still turnover prone (8 against WSU, 7 in the first game against Stanford). Clarendon has a scoring guard's mentality and both she and team are better off with someone else handling the ball. Pierre is still a liability on offense, particularly on a team so dependent on interior play as teams will sag off of her and clog the lane. Yet all of them offer strengths that make them game-changers.
Against Stanford, Cal will need an efficient playmaking game from Boyd, efficient scoring from Clarendon, and the outstanding defensive pressure that Pierre offers to bother Cardinal guards. It's difficult to play all three of these players at once for extended periods of time, but it's hard to ignore that they need to on the floor. Pierre has often been odd-woman-out this season because her shooting struggles make it tough on Cal's offense. So one question for Cal today, given that they can't just make the Ogwumike sisters disappear, is how to find lineup combinations that get the most out of these three guards without sacrificing much.
To watch the previous days' games, visit the Pac-12's YouTube site.
Click here to download a printable bracket. For more on the tournament, visit the conference's 2012 Pac-12 conference tournament website. For game-by-game statistics, visit WBB State's Pac-12 conference tournament page.