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Gottlieb, Anigwe and Thomas Rep Cal at Pac-12 Media Day

October 11, 2017

As the 2017-18 season approaches, Pac-12 Media Day introduced the coaches and key players from all Pac-12 conference teams today in Pac-12 headquarters in San Francisco.

Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb, junior All-American junior forward Kristine Anigwe and junior point guard Asha Thomas led the Cal contingent addressing Pac-12 media at today's event.

Gottlieb is heading into her seventh year as head coach at Cal and is optimistic about where the program is heading this season.

"We feel like the story is that we're no longer on the rise but that we're here," said Gottlieb. "It's fun to be a part of and fun to be a part of the growth.

"Very excited to have these two young women here with us today.They're now juniors. Personally for me, they've been through so much with us and they're unbelievable leaders. To see them as upperclassmen, showing our youngsters what Cal basketball is about, their goal is to lead us back to the top. I have a lot of confidence in them.

"I think since the last several years, this is our best combination of veteran talent and leadership with youth that's ready to contribute. Freshmen and sophomores that can play but they have juniors and seniors to show them the way."

Both Anigwe and Thomas played big roles as freshmen in the program -not just because of their talent but out of necessity, with a thin roster that desperately needed their contributions.

Now the pair are juniors- battle-tested veterans that are both among the most talented players in the country at their positions but also the type of leaders the program needs to move forward after getting back to the NCAA tourney again last year but still struggling in a deep and talented Pac-12 conference.

"For me, I came in and saw great leadership, so I'm just trying to be the leader that I watched and I expected from the upperclassmen (when she was a freshman)," said Anigwe. "I'm just really excited with this group."

"For me, I'd say it's been an experience being myself, looking at myself in the mirror and seeing what type of person I'm becoming and then what kind of leader I'm becoming to the younger ones," said Thomas. "Then just seeing growth with Kristine and all the other veterans, to see where they've come. I've been really enjoying it."

In their quest to push for a Pac-12 championship, the Bears are now better-positioned than they've been in years to make waves in a deep and talented conference with a level of class and position balance they've lacked in recent years, giving them the ability to score in a multitude of ways.

"I think we have a better balance of ability on the floor," said Gottlieb. "As I've said multiple times and I'm not afraid to say, I think Kristine is, if not the best, certainly one of the best post players in the country. But now I think we have a terrific three-point shooter and leader in Asha. I think we have someone like Mikayla Cowling who can get to the rim. I think we have freshmen now -Kianna Smith and Alaysia Styles- and (soph) Mi'Cole Cayton- people who can break you down off the dribble and create shots for others. I think we have better pieces than we've had in the past

"But the other point, I now have older players who I can look at in practice and say, 'This isn't good enough' and they are able to get better within the course of a practice.

"Two years ago, we had zero seniors. Last year, one had one that was competing on the roster (KC Waters). Now we have to really significant seniors -Penina Davidson's playing really well and confident- and two upperclassmen that I don't know if there are any juniors who have played more minutes in their careers in the entire country than these two."

After a lot of success in her first four seasons, the program had to rebuild in many ways after losing most of the key components to those successful teams, playing with a thin roster much of the last two seasons.

"That final four team, we had no freshmen," said Gottlieb. "Not by design but when I got the job, it was late and we didn't want to use scholarships just to use scholarships. It was unique. We returned a great team and we had no freshmen. Certainly having no seniors three years later was tough. But I'd say this year is the best combination of talent we've had in a while and not just seniors but juniors"

Last year's 20-win team will be joined by top 100 recruits Kianna Smith and Alaysia Styles as well as wing Archer Olson and the injection of talent has given the Bears a real boost if early signs are accurate.

"They're terrific," said Gottlieb. "Kianna's as smooth, talented and as versatile a guard as we've had since Boyd. She has a natural ability to see the floor, read the floor, make a shot and get others involved. She's just so smooth. And Bird (Styles) is a dynamic front court player. She's a true 4. She can face up and handle it, she can mix it up around the basket, she's athletic, she rebounds well.

"They and Archer (Olson) are all great additions to the team."

Smith will bring some much-needed perimeter presence to Cal's offensive game and help prevent teams from crashing down on Anigwe every possession with her ability to shoot the three and create off the dribble, much like Thomas.

"It's really good," said Gottlieb of Smith's perimeter game. "She can get by people read a screen, knock down shots, has a good midrange game and she's got good outside range, too."

Mi'Cole Cayton saw great progress in her game last year as a freshman while starting her last 12 games, including games of 18 points (UCLA), 12 points (USC) and 11 points (Stanford) in league play.

"Mi'Cole might be our most improved player," said Gottlieb. "She's very explosive. She's finishing even better. 

"Having Kianna here will definitely allow her to create even more but I think the player it might even help more is Asha. We can run her off screens more and do more things. And it puts Mikayla back at her more natural position where she won't have to handle the ball as much but to do things like get out in transition and finish and other things she hasn't been able to do as much."

Anigwe and Thomas talked about the benefits of their preseason trip to Australia and New Zealand and the benefits it created off the court with team bonding and general closeness of the team but there were other practical areas on the court where the team was able to benefit, as well.

"You're allowed 10 practices before you go overseas so we were able to put in a lot of our defensive schemes and some basic offensive things in August," said Gottlieb. "So now as practice has started up again, we can spend more time in other areas where we need to improve. 

"It was also great for chemistry and also to give me a chance to mix up some lineups and get players game minutes in games that don't count."

Too often last season, the team had to rely on forcing the ball in the block to Anigwe in order to put points on the board but this year's team is in better position free up the All-American junior to play more in the flow of the game.

"I think our guards shoot it better and our balance is better so she shouldn't have to carry the team on her shoulders," said Gottlieb. "She's so good but I think we can be a better team even if her numbers are down and she's more efficient."

When the Bears went to the final four in Gottlieb's second season at Cal, where she was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year, the league wasn't as deep as it's been in the last few years so the pressure to win the league to make a run in the tournament isn't as strong, with several teams that weren't league winners having significant tourney success.

"The good part about how deep the league is, you can finish 6th in our league and be a threat to make waves in the tournament or finish fourth or fifth and go to the final four," said Gottlieb. "The night in and night out competition really gets you ready for postseason play with a league as great as ours.

"This is a team that wants to get back to the top. To get back to the top, that comes down to little things like winning the games when you're not shooting well on the road, winning games when you swept a pair of teams and coming back and doing it again the next week. Those are things you need to do day in and day out."

To view the Cal interview session in full, use the embedded video below:

Discussion from...

Gottlieb, Anigwe and Thomas Rep Cal at Pac-12 Media Day

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Cheers to Lindsay and the Golden Bear Women. GO BEARS!
“ Once a Bear - Always A Bear”
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The first half of the story is from the press conference and the 2nd half is from a one on one conversation, asking about some of the stuff that gets asked about here periodically.
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MoragaBear said:

The first half of the story is from the press conference and the 2nd half is from a one on one conversation, asking about some of the stuff that gets asked about here periodically.
Somehow she makes inheriting a fantastic roster sound like a bad thing. When you recruit no one the first year, then Range, Jefflo, Waters, Ben Abdelkader, Dunn (transfer) and Shine (transfer) the next year and then Green, Cowling and Davidson, you end up with one senior starter and one back-up. It doesn't help that she added 15 players in the first 5 years and had 8 players leave. Sadly there are players that are doing well that she passed up.
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She wasn't saying it was a bad thing. She was saying they won because they had experienced and talented players and didn't have to rely on freshmen to make a run.

She took the job at the end of April in 2011. Too late for sure to add anyone to the 2011 class and way behind the curve to add talent they felt was worth adding with a roster as big as they generally prefer to have at 13 for the 2012 class.

Range and Waters were both Top 50 recruits and Jefflo was highly-recruited, too, in 2013. Cowling and Green were both in the Top 12 in the '14 class.

As for transfers, it's pretty well-known why most of the transfers left and it wasn't because the staff sucked. There were various issues, like a conduct dismissal, a return home overseas, a serious concussion, not enough talent to play much, etc.

They probably could've done a better job balancing classes but you don't just inherit good talent and go 17-1 in Pac-12 play and to the final four by being an average to poor coach.

It's hard to look at the last few teams and see a situation where they were in position in a really deep and talented league to do much.

This year, they are, in my opinion. They have the right blend of talent, class balance, experience, skill sets and leadership to make a step up.

We'll see if it pans out that way in what has become a gauntlet of a schedule in Pac-12 play but assuming injuries don't pile up, I think it will.
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