|Caren Horstmeyer||Head Coach (5th Year), Reigning Pac-10 Coach of the Year|
|Sunny Smallwood||Associate Head Coach (1st Year)|
|Kirsten McKnight||Assistant Coach (4th Year)|
|Camille Burkes||Assistant Coach (5th Year)|
Followers of the team have wondered if this season, Horstmeyers fifth at Cal, would be her last in Berkeley. After all, this is the final year of her initial five-year contract, and she hasnt led Cal to a winning season thus far. However, a few developments have brought Horstmeyer some job security: a solid 2004 recruiting class, last seasons fast start, the way Horstmeyer held the team together after Alisa Lewiss death, and of course, those incoming recruits. It was announced recently that her contract has been extended until the end of the 2005-2006 season.
Pac-10: 4-14 (9th)
Lost to Stanford 80-55 in the second round of the Pac-10 Tournament
Key Contributors Lost:
|G - Nihan Anaz||(14.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 67 assists, 53 steals)|
|First team All Pac-10, team MVP. Ranked 11th in conference in scoring, 9th in steals, and 10th in field goal percentage (45.6%). Led or tied for team-high in scoring in 18 games.|
|G - LaTasha OKeith||(8.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 56 assists, 42 steals)|
|Key defender on the perimeter. One of four players who started every game. Provided Cal with much-needed quickness. 3rd on team in scoring.|
|C - Olga Volkova||(5.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 17 blocks)|
|Played 18.6 minutes a game (team-high for reserves). 2nd in rebounds and 5th in assists on team. Led or tied for team-high rebounds in nine games.|
Nihan Anaz is irreplaceable; she was Cals go-to player last year and her value could not be overestimated. She was key in the early success of the triangle offense, as it showcased her versatility, and so much of the offense went through her, capitalizing on her great court vision and passing ability. She took chances with her passes, as evidenced by her team-high in turnovers (95), but the offense clicked with her on the court. Most important, perhaps, was her ability to finish. She and OKeith were the only two players who could break down a defender one-on-one and get to the basket. They were also the teams best perimeter defenders. Volkova provided much needed size in the middle last year. Not the most athletic player, she compensated with hustle and great team play. She was also the best passing center Cal has had in a while.
With the departure of these three players, Cal lost 43% of its points and its assists from last year.
2004-2005: The players
Returning Starters (with 03-04 stats):
|G Kristin Iwanaga||5-6 Sr. (6.9ppg, 2.4 rpg, 70 assists, 31 steals)|
|Led team in assists and in minutes played|
|F Kiki Williams||6-1 Sr. (6.4ppg, 3.4rpg, 24 assists, 29 steals)|
|Led team in FT% (87.3%)|
|F Leigh Gregory||6-0 Sr. (11.5ppg, 4.9rpg, 52 assists, 43 steals)|
|Top returning scorer and rebounder.|
These three captains are the undisputed leaders of this team.
Kiki Williams returns for her fifth year on the team, and she is probably Cals biggest proven outside threat. Despite only being only a career 28% 3-pt shooter, Williams can get on a hot streak and score in bunches, as evidenced by her five treys in Cals victory over Oregon in the Pac-10 tourney or her career high 24 points at UCLA. Although much stronger facing the basket, Williams was forced to play more down low last year, as she was often the tallest Bear on the court. This year, with the emergence of Coakley and the addition of the freshmen, Williams will look to return to her more natural position on the wing. Nicknamed "Coach Kiki," she will need to be a vocal leader for the younger players learning the ropes. Williams has been slowed in the pre-season with an ankle injury but hopes to return for the start of the regular season.
Another player who should benefit from Cals new depth in the frontcourt is Leigh Gregory. A starter since her freshman year, Gregory has compensated for her size with terrific footwork and quickness and with the willingness to battle players much bigger and taller than she is. Finally, Cal might now have the personnel to allow her to play away from the basket, where she will be expected to take more jump-shots. If she can make the transition, look for her to be Cals go-to player this year. She has shown the ability to be more of an offensive threat, as she was the leading scorer in this summers SF ProCity league.
Kristin Iwanaga has also been a starter since donning the Golden Bear uniform. As a freshman, she impressed with her poise in running the team. Iwanage is the definition of a solid player, rarely making mental errors. In fact, her assists to turnovers ratio (1.59) was tops on the team last year. She is also terrific from the free-throw line and is accurate from three-point land. However, despite being one of the best shooters on the team, she takes relatively few shots, especially considering that she also tops the team in minutes played. Perhaps with the return of Sarah Pool and the addition of the freshmen, Iwanage will be freed to look for her shot more. She has been working on a quicker release on her shot in the off-season, which might also help increase her offensive production this year.
Other Returners (with last seasons stats):
|G/F Jacqueline Sanchez||5-10 Sr. (4.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg)|
|Improved her FT% from 54.5% to 80.4%|
|C Khadijah Coakley||6-1 Sr. (1.3 ppg)|
|Played limited minutes coming off ACL surgery|
|F Renee Wright||5-11 Jr. (4.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg)|
|Improved her FG% from 30.6% to 45.5%|
|G Sarah Pool||5-7 So.|
|G Keanna Levy||5-10 So. (2.0 ppg, 1.2 rpg)|
|F/C Emmelie Geraedts||6-2 So. (1.5 ppg)|
|Played in 26 games, averaging 5.9 minutes a game|
Although she has missed all of the pre-season due to an ankle injury, Jacqueline Sanchez will be counted on to be an important contributor this year. Whether its making a nifty pass or crashing the offensive boards or defending taller players, Sanchez is one player who will do whatever the team needs. She is strong enough to guard the wing, yet has good court vision and can play point, a position she played in high school. She is also an underrated but efficient shooter, making half of her field goals and more than 80% of her free throws last season. She tied for 4th on the team in total rebounds (93) despite playing only 15 minutes a game. Although she will have to cut down on turnovers, Sanchez was one of the players most willing to look to feed the ball into the post, which should be more of a focus this season.
Renee Wright is another returning key reserve from last year. Wright really came on at the end of the season, averaging 9.3 ppg in the last 6 games, including a team-high 16 points in the Pac-10 Tournament win over Oregon. This season, Wright have picked up where she left off, averaging 12 ppg in the two exhibition games, including 4 of 7 three-pointers. She seems to have settled into her role on the team and looks a lot more certain of herself and of the offense. The key for Wright will be consistency, to be a solid rebounder and a scoring threat night in and night out. If she can keep up her intensity, she is poised to have a breakthrough season. With Kiki Williams coming back from an injury, Wright will get more playing time and will have an early chance to prove herself.
Another pre-season bright spot has been Khadijah Coakley, who has opened quite a few eyes with her pogo-stick rebounding and her crowd-pleasing shot-blocking. While Coakleys calling card has been her athleticism, injuries and a limited offensive game has kept her off the court. However, Coakley now seems determined to make her senior year a memorable one. In the two exhibition games, she has surprised many with her offensive game, including a nifty short-range jumper. She also has been able to get to the charity stripe, where she has been a deadly 80%. She will have to continue to out-jump and out-quick her opponents, as she is undersized to play center. But Im personally rooting for Coakley to do well this year, as she epitomizes hard work and perseverance.
Cals roster is full of "rootable" players (with apologies to Sports Illustrated), and Sarah Pool is certainly one of them. After a decent freshman campaign, Pool was out all last year with a back injury. But now she has returned, bringing some needed fire to the backcourt. Pool is terrific in transition, and she provides a dash of excitement with her no-look passes. She is the guard most willing to dribble-penetrate, which will help keep the opponents perimeter defenses honest. However, Pool has also shown a tendency at times to go too much one-on-one and to leave her feet without anywhere to pass the ball. Perhaps she is not yet comfortable in the offense, which would be understandable. In any case, in her desire to help the team, Pool must guard against trying to do too much, as demonstrated by her foul-plagued turnover-prone performance against the Bay Area Pro-Am. Once Pool shakes off the rust, she will be a vital contributor to the team with her handles and her solid outside shot.
Sophomores Keanna Levy and Emmelie Geraedts will also be vying for spots in the Bears rotation this season. Both had some nice moments in their freshman campaigns, but their minutes were limited partly due to the fact that defense wasnt very sturdy. Thrown into the post, Geraedts wasnt strong enough to defend big-bodied forwards and centers. And she was committed too many turnovers, something common to many freshmen adjusting to the faster pace of the college game. As she hasnt played much in the pre-season, its hard to tell if shes gotten stronger this year. She does have sound footwork and old-school moves, and she might be the Bears best shooter at the 4/5 position. However, with the Bears new depth down low, Geraedts will need to show improvement if she is to see more playing time.
Levy, on the other hand, did not lack the physical tools in the freshman year. Instead, she was hampered by the fact that she played only zone defense in high school and had a hard time keeping her player in front of her. She also struggled with the steep learning curve as a freshman and often went one-on-one instead of playing within the offense. This year, Levy has already shown a steadier game, leading the team so far in assists (7) after the two exhibitions. Contrast this with her total of 8 assists all last season. And although the coaches have had her practice mostly at SF to take advantage of her rebounding skills, Levy was pressed into service as a guard in the second exhibition game due to a short bench. She performed capably, showing improved ball-handling and free-throw shooting. If she can straighten out her shooting, she will contribute to the teams success this year, as the Bears will need her quickness and athleticism.
|G Seda Erdogan||5-7 Fr. Averaged 30 points a game last year. Served as captain of the Turkish Jr. National team.|
|Will back up Iwanaga and Pool, coming back from knee injury.|
|F Krista Foster||6-0 Fr.|
|Relentless rebounder, will get minutes at forward and center|
|C Jessica Lawson||6-3 Fr. Immediate starter|
|Two-time Central Florida Player of the Year, ranked #118 overall and #28 among centers by All-Star Girls Report|
|G Kelly OConnell||5-5 Fr. Out with torn tendon, status for season uncertain|
|Led high school team to two state championships. Ranked #111 among PGs by ASGR.|
|G Brio Rode||5-10 Fr.|
|Won Gatorade New Mexico Player of the Year as a sophomore and then again in her senior year. Ranked #56 among wings by ASGR.|
|F Aminata Soumare||6-0 Jr. Hopes to return by Pac-10 season|
|JC: Averaged 9 points and 9 boards a game before injury|
With six players, the newcomers account for 40% of the team, and they will need to make an immediate impact. However, injuries have already limited many of them in the early going. We have yet to see Aminata Soumare, who is still rehabbing a knee injury, but she will help with rebounding and defense when she returns. Brio Rode should return as soon as the game against Navy; she is expected to provide outside shooting and court savvy. Kelly OConnell, who played hurt all last year, may be tough enough to play with her injury, but she may also be sidelined for a while.
Of the remaining players, the early focus has been on Jessica Lawson, an athletic post who can be a factor at both ends of the floor. In the first exhibition game, Lawson showed no reticence as she scored Cals first five points and sparked the Bears defense with a blocked shot. She also got the opposing post players into quick foul trouble. In a span of 10 minutes, she had the Bear faithful on the edge of their seats. In the two exhibition games, Lawson was Cals leading scorer, with 25 points in only 24 minutes. Her challenge will be to stay out of foul trouble and to play consistently from game to game. If she keeps improving, Lawson will be a force for the Bears for the next 4 years.
The other newcomer who has received plenty of playing time has been Krista Foster. In fact, she trails only Iwanaga in minutes played. Foster has been able to compensate for her lack of height with her strength. Her biggest impact early will be in rebounding and tough post defense. Although she showed an ability to score in the SF ProCity (over 20 ppg), her shot looks off right now, both from the field and at the free-throw line, where she made only 4 of 12. Foster will also have to do a better job taking care of the ball, as she leads the team in turnovers so far. However, Foster will earn minutes with her hustle and hard-nosed play.
Finally, we have Seda Erdogan, who has been the mystery newcomer. We know very little about her, due to the fact that she signed so late and that she was injured most of last year. Like Anaz, shes from Turkey, where she is the captain of the Junior National Team. She is very young, having just turned 17 a few months ago, but she is supposed to be very gifted. Former coach Barb Smith thinks she has the potential to "one of the best guards in the nation." In her two games, she has played sparingly, but has shown that shes willing to look for her shot, hitting two quick threes in the first game and missing some shots badly in the second. Hard to tell if outside shooting is a strength, and shes just rusty, or if her offense is built on getting to the basket, which is difficult at this point with her brace. Ah, the mystery continues, but it will be exciting to watch her progress this year.
With the influx of new players, Horstmeyer now has her deepest team at Cal. She still doesnt have any superstars, but the team has fewer weaknesses than a year ago.
The Bears will not have a lot of quickness (and no Anaz to bail them out) and will have to rely more of half-court sets. Thus Horstmeyer wants her team to be less predictable in the Triangle, which she felt happened midway through last season. Much will depend, of course, on the success of integrating so many new players into the system. The injuries havent helped. Early on, there might be some difficulty and many turnovers, as players learn about each others tendencies and preferences. But as the season progresses, the Bears will continue to improve offensively.
Whereas Cal will be hard-pressed to replace last years perimeter scoring, it should have a stronger frontcourt offensively this year. The guards will need to make a commit to feed the post, no matter whos down there, something they were sometime reluctant to do last year. Offensive rebounding will be a key to compensate for cold-shooting nights. The stronger post presence hopefully will help with the teams 3-pt FG% (31.1%, 9th in conference). Certainly the Bears should improve their FT%, if their exhibition performance (73.5%) is any indication.
Lost in all the talk about the offensive improvement last year is the fact that Cal had a down year defensively, when it finished last in the conference in FG% defense (44%). The Bears have re-committed themselves to playing tough defense this season. With increased depth, Cal will be able to play a more aggressive man defense. They will have a more size on the perimeter, but because of a lack of quickness, look for the Bears to play some zone as well.
There is little doubt that Cal will be a much better rebounding team this year. While Gregorys numbers are expected to drop with her moving away from the basket, Cal will count on Coakley, Foster, Lawson, Wright, and good-rebounding guards like Levy and Sanchez. Any of the above players, given the playing time, can grab six to eight boards on a given night. Also, look for the Bears to increase their blocked shots from last year (38, last in the conference).
For another year, Cal has been picked to finish at the bottom of the conference. In fact, the media predicted Cal to finish 9th, while the coaches think Cal will be in 8th place by seasons end.
My take: The players and coaches all remark on the tremendous chemistry on this team, which is good, because they will need teamwork if they hope to improve on last seasons record. While on paper the Bears have improved their overall talent, its a little scary that so many of their players are new to the team. There might be some growing pains early in the season, which would be unfortunate, since the Bears will get tested over Thanksgiving in the Rainbow Wahine Classic. The rest of the non-conference schedule is much less challenging, and Cal could come away with a winning record entering the Pac-10 slate.
The difficult thing, of course, is as Cal has improved, so have most of the Pac-10 teams. Top to bottom, the conference will be tougher this year. An upper-division finish is hard to imagine; realistically, if on court chemistry matches their off-the-court camaraderie, Cal could be in a 3-way battle with USC and Washington for 6th-8th place. But of course, every season there is a surprise team in the Pac-10, so why not the Bears this year?
Other predictions, educated guesses, and shots in the dark (what the hell, right?)
- Bears will have over 70 block shots this year.
- A Bear will receive All-Conference (or All-Freshman) honors
- Cal will outscore and out-rebound their opponents
- Cal will beat a ranked team
- Cal will have a winning season
The California womens basketball team tips off its season against Navy this Sunday, 2 p.m. at Haas Pavilion. Fans with a Big Game ticket will get free admission.
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