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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona WBB returns to McKale to face Cal and No. 6 Stanford in this week’s matchups

The+Arizona+womens+basketball+bench+celebrates+a+3-point+shot+on+Jan.+27%2C+in+McKale+Center.+The+Wildcats+won+the+game+61-54.
Nathanial Stenchever

The Arizona women’s basketball bench celebrates a 3-point shot on Jan. 27, in McKale Center. The Wildcats won the game 61-54.

The Arizona women’s basketball team is returning to McKale for a two-game home stand, starting against the University of California, Berkeley, on Friday, Jan. 26, at 7 p.m. They then face No. 6 Stanford University on Sunday, Jan. 28, at noon. Arizona (10-9, 2-5 in Pac-12) is currently on a four-game losing streak. In last week’s games, the Wildcats lost 62-60 to the University of Washington on Friday, Jan. 19, and were blown out 78-57 by Washington State University on Sunday, Jan. 21. Heading into this week’s games, with two more formidable opponents, the Wildcats will need their best performances of the year to start turning this season around.

Cal (13-6, 3-4 in Pac-12) enters this contest against Arizona coming off a 66-57 victory over the University of Oregon on Sunday, Jan. 21. They aim to secure another win against the Wildcats to get back to .500 in conference play. Meanwhile, Stanford (17-2, 6-1 in Pac-12), one of the best programs in women’s college basketball, is having another stellar season. Currently, on a two-game winning streak after defeating Oregon and Oregon State University, they seek to continue their high-level play against Arizona and improve their standing in the national rankings.

Game 1: Cal — Friday, Jan. 26, at 7 p.m.

History vs. Cal  

In the upcoming 75th meeting between Arizona and Cal, the Wildcats trail in the all-time series to the Golden Bears 38-36. Recent history between these programs reveals a competitive dynamic, with Arizona holding a 6-4 lead in the last 10 meetings and currently on a five-game winning streak. The most recent meeting between these teams took place on Feb. 12, 2023, in Tucson – the same setting as the upcoming matchup – where the Wildcats secured a convincing 80-57 victory.

When playing at home, Arizona has historically performed well against Cal, boasting a 20-16 record. Despite the Wildcats’ current struggles, they maintain an impressive 6-2 record at home this season. This home-court advantage could tip the scales slightly in their favor for this upcoming matchup.

Cal’s season

Head Coach Charmin Smith, a staple on the Golden Bear bench for over a decade, took the helm as the Cal women’s basketball head coach on June 21, 2019. A key figure in building Cal into a premier program, Smith’s influence extends beyond the court, handling responsibilities from recruiting to campus equity and inclusion. With a history of success, including ten 20-win seasons and nine NCAA Tournament appearances, Smith’s leadership has been integral to Cal’s standing on the West Coast.

Cal’s 2023-24 season began on a high note with a dominant 89-56 win over California State University, Bakersfield, marking the start of a six-game win streak, the best under  Smith. However, the momentum faced its first loss of the season in a 65-51 contest against Texas A&M University. However, the Bears rebounded with a hard-fought 74-69 win against Saint Mary’s College, but then faltered in a 78-70 loss to former-No. 23 Gonzaga University the next week. They would once again bounce back the next week and once again showcase their defensive prowess with a 76-49 victory against the University of Nevada. The team faced additional challenges once conference play began, facing losses to former-No. 9 Stanford University, former-No. 5 University of Colorado, the University of Utah, and Oregon State.

Key players for Cal to watch out for would be guard Ioanna Krimili, who leads the team in scoring, averaging 16.8 points per game, recently reaching a season-high 24 points in their most recent game against Oregon. Junior forward Marta Suárez, the second-leading scorer averaging 12.7 ppg, also contributes significantly on the boards with seven rebounds per game. Guard Leilani McIntosh, who is leading the team in assists (5.5) and steals (2), recently moved into fourth place on the all-time assists list (487) for Cal women’s basketball. This trio will be at the forefront in determining whether the Bears will leave Tucson victorious.

Game 2: No. 6 Stanford — Sunday, Jan. 28, at noon

History vs. Stanford  

In the upcoming 86th meeting between these schools, the historical narrative has been one of absolute dominance in favor of Stanford. The Cardinal have completely outclassed the Wildcats, leading the all-time series record with a commanding 75-11 advantage against Arizona. The recent trend continues to showcase Stanford’s prowess, having secured victories in the last six meetings and boasting a 9-1 record in their last 10 meetings. The most recent clash occurred on Feb. 9, 2023, resulting in a decisive 84-60 victory for the Cardinal.

The struggles extend to Arizona on its home court against Stanford, with the Cardinal leading 30-9. The history between these teams paints a morbid picture for the Wildcats as they look to navigate the uphill battle in the upcoming matchup against this Stanford squad.

Stanford’s season

Head Coach Tara VanDerveer, the all-time winningest coach in women’s college basketball, has been a transformative force at Stanford since her arrival on Nov. 22, 1985. A five-time national coach of the year and 17-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year, VanDerveer’s positive and energetic approach to the game has propelled Stanford to unprecedented success. On Dec. 15, 2020, she became the winningest coach, surpassing Pat Summitt’s mark of 1,098.

Heading into the 2023-24 season, VanDerveer exceeded previous achievements as Stanford, starting ranked No. 15, dominated with an 87-40 win over the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa in its season opener. The momentum persisted with victories against former-ninth-ranked Indiana University (96-64) and Cal Poly (86-32). Stanford faced tougher competition, securing a closely contested (82-79) win against Duke University to maintain their No. 6 ranking. Continuing dominance, they triumphed over Belmont University (74-55) and defeated Florida State University (100-88) in the Ball Dawgs Classic. The winning streak included victories against the University at Albany (79-35) and San Diego State University (85-44), bringing VanDerveer closer to history. Despite a setback with a 96-78 loss to Gonzaga, Stanford rebounded with an 81-51 win against Portland University.

The team excelled in December, with notable wins against the University of California, Davis (92-52) and California (78-51). Stanford continued its dominance into the new year, securing a 98-38 win over Morgan State University. Resilience was shown in a 74-65 victory against Washington State and VanDerveer’s 1,200th win against Washington (71-59). The streak extended to seven with a narrow (66-64) win against Utah. However, a (71-59) defeat against former-No. 5 Colorado kept VanDerveer a win away from tying Mike Krzyzewski. The historic moment arrived on Jan. 19, as VanDerveer tied Krzyzewski with her 1,202nd victory in an 88-63 win against Oregon. Success continued with VanDerveer surpassing Krzyzewski on Jan. 21, securing her 1,203rd career victory at home with a 65-56 win against Oregon State.

The key players to watch out for at Stanford include junior forward Kiki Iriafen, who recently had a career-high 36 points and 11 rebounds against Oregon State and is averaging a double-double for the season with 18.4 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. Then there’s senior forward Cameron Brink, who is also averaging a double-double on the season with 17.4 points, 10.7 rebounds and team-leading in blocks with 3.2 per game, is the most complete player on this team. However, Brink’s availability for the upcoming game against Arizona remains uncertain due to a leg injury suffered against Oregon.

Wildcats to watch 

In this week’s matchups, the spotlight undoubtedly falls on sophomore guard Kailyn Gilbert, Arizona’s leading scorer in the recent contests against Washington and Washington State. Despite the Wildcats’ close 62-60 loss to the Huskies, Gilbert delivered an impressive performance, scoring 18 points, seven rebounds and three assists. She followed it up with an even more outstanding display in the next game, securing her fourth double-double of the season with 22 points and 11 rebounds, albeit in a disappointing 78-57 loss against the Cougars. Gilbert’s remarkable consistency shines through this season, having scored in double digits in 17 out of 19 games played. Leading the team with six rebounds per game and ranking second in assists per game at 2.7, Gilbert’s all-around contributions have been crucial, even as the team grapples with ongoing struggles. 

Another key player to watch for Arizona fans is fifth-year forward Esmery Martinez, who was the team’s second-leading scorer in both matchups last week. Martinez showcased her impact with a double-double performance of 13 points and 12 rebounds against Washington, narrowly missing another double-double against Washington State. Despite Martinez’s consistent contributions, mirrored by her 10.7 points per game and similar rebounding average to Gilbert, the Wildcats have faced challenges in converting individual performances into team victories. However, as the team seeks a turnaround, the onus falls on players like Martinez and Gilbert to lead the charge. With a demonstrated ability to elevate their play when needed, this week presents an opportunity for both players to spearhead Arizona’s resurgence and steer the team back into the win column.


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