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California Looking for First Pac-10 Win: Rebounding the Key Against Washington

After a 62-56 loss to the University of Washington last Thursday, Arizona State University coach Charli Turner Thorne said made the following comment about Cal's early season performance: "Cal's kinda going through a little bit of what we're going through - they're young as well. But they have all three of their starting guards back. We don't quite have that luxury. And it shows."

While it may be true that the University of California is in better position than ASU personnel wise, what shows now is that ASU got their first win on Sunday while Cal suffered a heartbreaking third loss, leaving Cal as one of two winless teams in the Pac-10.

It's not exactly the type of start coaches and media predicted in pre-season polls - nationally or in the Pac-10 - nor is it reflective of the type of success they experienced last season.

However, there is hope around the corner: not only do they return to the Bay Area for a homestand, but they also face Washington tonight, a team that has not won in Haas Pavilion since 2007.

Although the Huskies ride a three game win streak southward, they're aware of the challenge that a hungry, winless Cal team poses at Haas Pavilion.

"Yeah they're 0-3, but they're still a really talented team," said Washington senior guard Sami Whitcomb on Tuesday in anticipation of their game against Cal. "They have young talent and they're playing three freshman starters. So we can't go in there underestimating them, we're going to be playing in their house -- which is definitely an advantage for them -- and I think they're going to be making up for the losses they've already had in conference."

Statistically, in their first three Pac-10 games Cal's problem has come down to what might be described as a ball handling problem - their turnover differential is the lowest in the conference (-6.0) and their assisted field goal percentage is down nearly 20 percentage points from where it was in non-conference play. It certainly does not help that they're shooting a 36.7% in conference play, ranked 9th.

Nevertheless, Cal's biggest strength over the course of the season has been UW's biggest weakness in conference play: rebounding.

Cal's rebounding advantage

Although Washington has looked like a completely different team in conference play, rebounding is still a persistent problem.

While their offensive rebounding has certainly picked up a notch with keeping the offensive rebounding margin close, they still rank last in the conference in defensive rebounds per game and defensive rebounding percentage...and their average has fallen 3.5 rebounds per game from where it was in non-conference play.

"They're two very, very good rebounding teams," said Jackson in anticipation of both the upcoming Cal and Stanford University games. "I know I say that about every team we go against, but even moreso just looking at it from a stats situation each team has at least three players in the top anywhere from 12-15 in the conference in rebounding. They do it in all kinds of ways. Cal is very, very aggressive. Very athletic. Maybe a smaller athletic bunch out of the two teams."

It just so happens that those three rebounders in the top 15 for Cal are 3 of the 6 active freshmen they have on their roster: forwards Genifer Brandon (6.8 rpg, 10th in the Pac-10), DeNesha Stallworth (6.7 rpg, 12th) and Talia Caldwell (6.3 rpg, 13th). Washington's only player in the top 20 is Whitcomb, meaning Washington will have their hands full trying to contain Cal on the boards.

Thus far in Pac-10 play, their rebounding is keeping them in games, despite poor shooting and a turnover problem.

As a team, Cal is 4th in offensive rebounding percentage at 43.6% per game but second to Washington State University in offensive rebounds averaging 18.1 per game. Stanford aside, they dominated both UCLA and USC on the offensive boards: they got 47% of the available offensive rebounds and had a 15.3% differential against USC and an offensive rebounding percentage of 46.5% with a 14.0% differential against UCLA.

So it's clear Cal can rebound.

But Washington is also concerned about their defensive pressure.

"Our scout team yesterday was pretty tremendous in executing what Cal does and they're very good with their defensive pressure," said Jackson. "So we'll have a couple of days of going against their pressure, going against their rebounding, going against their firepower."

The problem has been that Cal has not been forcing turnovers in conference play quite the way they did in non-conference play.

In non-conference play, Cal opponents 4.2 more turnovers per game than they do in conference play, with a large part of that being that Cal has 3.8 less steals per game. In addition, Cal is giving up 2.5 more turnovers per game in conference play. That pretty much explains why they now have the lowest turnover margin in the conference at -6.0.

So on top of the fact that Cal's defensive pressure has been less effective, they are giving the ball up more.

Washington's goal is to further neutralize the effect of that defensive pressure.

"We just have to come out early and take advantage of them," said Washington center and California native (Leigh High School, San Jose, CA) Laura McLellan. "We know they have a really young frontcourt so hopefully just run on them and don't allow them to press us. We're really pulling for just coming out strong."

However, given that Jackson said that Stallworth scored the majority of her 30 points against USC in transition and Washington had a grand total of two fast break points in two wins against ASU and Arizona, it would seem that Washington would benefit from a slower pace.

Keys to winning

Washington's half-court defense and ability to mix up their full-court defensive schemes has helped them keep teams out of sync and off balance. Against a Cal team that is struggling to make baskets and turning the ball over, it seems most effective to slow the game down and force Cal to beat them by running their half court sets.

In contrast, Cal's best bet might be to do the opposite: take advantage of their athleticism by pushing the tempo using their ability to get offensive rebounds that lead to second-chance points. Contrary to popular belief, high-paced teams that shoot the ball quickly usually have less turnovers because they shoot before they have a chance to do so. If Cal's post players were able to outrun USC's, they should be able to outrun Washington centers McLellan and Regina Rogers.

Ultimately, the combination of controlling the boards, in an up-tempo game on their home court might be Cal's formula for getting their first win.

Transition Points:

  • The other winless team is Washington State University (0-4), who Cal plays on Saturday.
  • For Four Factors stats for Cal, click here. For Cal and Washington non-conference stats, click here.
  • McLellan grew up a Stanford fan...which must make the extended losing streak to Cal during her career even tougher to swallow.

Related Links:

HeraldNet: Huskies enjoy the ride
Based on what awaits the Huskies (8-6 overall and 3-1 in the Pac-10 Conference) on the horizon, the sunny skies might be about to take a turn for the worse. Tonight’s game against a young, underachieving Cal team (6-8, 0-3) could be UW’s toughest challenge to date, while Saturday’s date at second-ranked Stanford (13-1, 3-0) is likely to be the most difficult task of the entire season.

Huskies | Huskies take three-game winning streak to Bay Area | Seattle Times Newspaper
Well, the women are playing as a cohesive unit and have a better conference record than the UW men, who fell out of the national rankings after a 1-3 Pac-10 start. You have to scroll back to 2007 when the women were led by current Washington State coach June Daugherty for the last time the program could boast about that. Then, the Huskies women were in the midst of a five-game winning streak to open Pac-10 play. The men were 1-3 after two weeks of conference play. Senior center Laura McLellan, a freshman on that 2006-07 team, said the Huskies can't get cocky.

Tough Bay Area trip to provide UW women with first real test - The Daily of the University of Washington
“We can’t be a team that is getting caught up in hype,” head coach Tia Jackson said. “I wouldn’t allow our team to do it, and I don’t think it’s who we are by design.” The team better be on top of its game tonight, because the Golden Bears are still searching for their elusive first conference win. Cal has the top-rated recruiting class this year but is very young with seven freshmen. The Huskies will need every bit of the veteran presence they have, especially on the road.

Huskies Arrive In Berkeley - University of Washington Travel Blog
The game plan for this morning is for the team to eat breakfast at the hotel, and then head over to Haas Pavilion on the California campus (about a mile up the road) for shootaround. Remember, you can follow for the entire road trip in this space and on our Twitter account (@UW_WBB).