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Cal Classic: WBB Looks for Improvement

November 22, 2017

After a trip to the East Coast, the No. 21 California Golden Bears women's basketball team returned home to host their annual Cal Classic tournament.

“It's always great to be able to host a tournament, which I'm very grateful that our administration allows us to do that,” said Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb.

The Bears will take on Manhattan on Friday, November 24, at 2pm, while No. 23 Missouri and Coppin State face off at 4pm.  On Saturday, November 25, the consolation game is at noon, and the championship game is at 2pm.

But before her team faces this next set of challenges, Gottlieb reflected on this past weekend, when the Bears lost to No. 1 UConn 82-47 and edged Brown (Gottlieb’s alma mater) 89-79. The trip turned out to the be full of measuring sticks and mileposts.

Despite her team being outclassed in every aspect of the game, the optimistic Gottlieb is sure that her team is better for the experience.

“I don't think playing UConn is something you'll soon forget,” said Gottlieb. “It's that visceral of an experience: they're that good, the crowd is that loud. The way our players prepped for the game, the in game, and the messaging after, it was all quite positive. We have a maturing team. No one was happy--we got our ass kicked; I'm not pretending we didn't. But the way we handled it made me think that we are going to get more positives out of it than negatives.”

Cal struggled mightily to score against the Huskies, especially in the third period, when the Bears managed only three points. Gottlieb still saw growth beyond the scoreboard.

“We hung together for 40 minutes,” Gottlieb. “We didn't perform as well as we could have or wanted to, but there are a lot of things that showed that we can hold ourselves to a higher standard than maybe what we're used to, and that's what playing UConn does. We weren't overwhelmed by the moment as we were in the NCAA Tournament against Baylor.”

"I think we'll continue to take lessons from it throughout the course of the year. That's why you schedule it--so the players can have that experience and be on the biggest stage. But also for our team to see--UConn is the standard-bearer in women's basketball, with how hard they play, how talented they are, their defensive effort, their actions on offense. So preparing all week for them raised our level of intensity. In the game, I thought we did a lot of good things to match their intensity level. We're not at good as they are, but it will serve us well in terms of having faced that. Looking forward, Arizona State's pressure shouldn't be maybe as scary as it would have been, or UCLA's pace, if we hadn't played UConn. These are the lessons that we will continue to take from it.”

Cal then moved on to play the Bears of Brown, where Gottlieb played in college. While it was far from just another game for her, Gottlieb was glad that her team took care of business on the court.

“The main thing was it was about us getting a win and bouncing back, and I thought the players, again, took the game really seriously,” said Gottlieb. “There was no letdown emotionally after UConn, so that was really good.”

Outside of the game, it was a special visit for Cal’s coach, because it provided an opportunity for her to share more about herself with her players.

“That was really neat how interested they were in my experience--'is this the same gym you played in?' After practice, we went to the main green and took pictures with Brown's big bear, and I talked a little about the history and the architecture; so they indulged me with a mini-tour.”

Brown hosted a Welcome Back reception for Gottlieb, where she was surrounded by her high school coach, her family, and her former professors. The event prompted Gottlieb yet again to reflect on how formative and impactful one’s college years can be, and her role in young people’s lives.

"A lot of it for me, and I think this resonates with the current players, was that, while I didn't play a lot, and you're not going to see my name in the record books, but the impact on me and hopefully me on other people was huge,” said Gottlieb. “Seeing professors, and teammates, I mean that's what we try to say to our players--it's about the relationships you make and the impact that you have and what kind of teammate you are."

But back to the present, Gottlieb is excited to host the Cal Classic.

"Manhattan has two really good scorers--a point guard and a post. Everyone can shoot the three. So we'll focus on them first, but obviously Missouri is a team that's really on the national scene. Sophie Cunningham is one of the best players in that class--along with Kristine [Anigwe] and Asia Durr, she's in that conversation of the top top juniors int the country. There's a lot of hype around them, and deservedly so. And excited to have Coppin here as well. It's a good experience for their players to be in a diferent part of the country. I'm just looking forward to some good basketball during the Thanksgiving holiday in our gym."

Manhattan is led by center Kayla Grimme (19.7 ppg) and guard Imani Tatum (12.0 ppg). 

Cunningham is averaging 20.3 ppg for Missouri, while senior Jordan Frericks is close behind at 19.7 ppg; both are hitting nearly 60% from the field. 

But beyond what she will see from any opponent, Gottlieb relishes the opportunity to see growth from her team.

“I want to see us defensively lock in and take away other teams' strengths. I want to see us be able to shift various things that we're doing and do them well. We want enough things in our pocket defensively that we do well that we might go with A and B one game and C and D another game. I want us continue to grow in not letting people be able to play us one kind of way; I think we're getting better with that--a balanced offense. We want to continue to evolve on offense to where we're deadly from many spots on the floor.”










Tags: WBB
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