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Previewing UK Hoops West Coast Matchup Against Cal

Seven straight homes game has been a nice luxury, but it’s nothing compared to a quick mid-December trip to the sunny West Coast.

Coming off its first loss of the season, No. 14 UK Hoops (10-1) will head to Berkely, California as they take on the Cal Golden Bears (7-2) this Saturday at 7 p.m.

Kentucky hasn’t played since the heart-breaking one-point loss to the No. 7 Louisville Cardinals almost one week ago and they’ll have their hands full against an impressive Cal team out of the Pac-12.

Head coach – Charmin Smith

The head coach of the Golden Bears is Charmin Smith, a former assistant on the Cal bench for 12 seasons who is now in her first season at the helm. The program promoted Smith after former head coach Lindsay Gottlieb left for an assistant role with the Cleveland Cavaliers this past summer. On the Bears staff, she has been a key figure in creating a consistently dangerous competitor.

Since Smith came to Berkely in 2009, the Bears have been to the NCAA Touranment on seven different occasions, peaking with a Final Four appearence in 2013. She also was a member of the New York Liberty (WNBA) coaching staff over the summer.

About Cal’s season

The rookie head coach has looked anything but a novice through nine games. Cal already boasts a win over a future Kentucky opponent, the No. 21 Arkansas Razorbacks. The Bears won that game 84-80 at home, highlighted by a 30-point outing from senior guard Jaelyn Brown.

However, Cal didn’t start out looking like a dangerous team. They lost their first two games of the season, falling on the road to both Harvard and then No. 5 UConn. Against the Huskies, the Bears lost by a score of 72-61 and actually played them to a close game. Since then, the Bears have not lost a game, winning seven consecutive and they’re coming off a 69-65 win over Santa Clara heading into Saturday’s game.

The Bears will play host to the ‘Cats with shooting averages of 43.1 percent from the field and 34.8 percent from 3 on the season. They average 72.8 points per game and haul in 42.8 rebounds in the process.

Get to know the Lady Bears

Cal’s most dangerous player is Jaelyn Brown (no, not the current Boston Celtic Jaylen Brown who played at Cal back in 2016) as she leads the team in scoring at over 15 points per game while grabbing the second-most rebounds at 6.8 per outing.

Brown has already topped the 20-point threshold in three games this season, including a 26-point effort against Santa Clara. The 6-foot-1 wing posted just six points on 2-12 shooting in the loss to UConn but made up for it with the 30-piece against Arkansas. Her impressive showing in the upset win over the Razorbacks earned her Pac-12 and espnW Player of the Week honors.

Next to Brown, the Cal backcourt is made up of 5-foot-5 freshman guard Leilani McIntosh and 5-foot-11 redshirt senior Sara Anastasieska.

McIntosh is the team’s floor general, leading the Bears in assists (41) and steals (24) by a considerable margin. Her 24 steals are the third-most among Pac-12 players and the 41 assists are tied for ninth-most in the conference. Despite leading the team in minutes, she is ninth in scoring at slightly under four points per game and has only been to the free-throw line a total of eight times on the year. McIntosh won’t be a scoring threat at all to the ‘Cats, but she can pass, rebound, and sneak in for rebounds at a high-level.

As for Anastasieska, the Australian native is Cal’s best outside shooter, connecting on 13 of her team-high 33 (39.4 percent) looks from the perimeter while averaging 9.4 points per game. She was the leading scorer in the loss to UConn, pouring in a career-high of 25 points on 5-10 shooting from beyond the arc. She isn’t much of a threat with the ball in her hands, however, and has turned the ball over more than any of her teammates (30 total turnovers).

Their guards are good, but down low is where Cal is going to give Kentucky fits.

The Bears feature FOUR ladies who stand at least 6-foot-2 or taller. Chen Yue, a native of China, is the tallest at 6-foot-7.

Alaysia Styles is the fourth nominal starter alongside Brown, Anastasieska, and McIntosh. At 6-foot-3, Styles is second on the team in scoring at 10.8 per game and she also corrals 5.1 rebounds in those outings. Her 52.6 percent shooting clip from the field is one of the top marks on the team and she recently recorded her first career double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Boston.

Joining her for the final starting position will be either Yue or 6-foot-4 center, CJ West. The senior leads the team in rebounding at 8.0 boards per outing and couples that with 9.6 points on a team-high 56.1 percent shooting from the field. She posted her only double-double of the season with 14 points and 12 rebounds in the win over Arkansas. Yue recently posted her only double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 boards against Santa Clara. West will likely receive the starting nod.

The final piece to the Cal rotation is 6-foot-2 freshman forward Evelien Lutje Schipholt out of the Netherlands. She’ll be another threat on the boards, pulling in 6.6 boards per game. Lutje Schipholt also leads Cal in blocks with 14 on the season.

What to expect

Against the Cards, Kentucky’s Achilles heel was on the glass. Too many offensive rebounds for UL late in the game sealed the ‘Cats fate and ultimately gave them the first loss of the year. The Bears are a borderline elite rebounding squad with four players that all tower of the frontline for the ‘Cats. No player for UK averages over six rebounds per game, Cal has three of them.

On both sides of the floor, Cal has outrebounded its opponents bit a wide margin while Kentucky struggled to do so all year long – even against significantly weaker opponentsn.

The Bears have been rebounding everything, and part of that is because they’ve been defending the three-point line so well. Cal has allowed the 12th-fewest made triples (34) across the nation on 124 overall attempts.

Cal has also shown a tendency to play smart basketball. They turn the ball over just 14.4 times per game and post one of the nation’s best assist/turnover ratios. In their previous win over Santa Clara, they turned the ball over just four times the entire game.

Much like Kentucky, the Bears are about to embark on a rough stretch of games. But unlike the ‘Cats, Cal might not make it out alive. After they play host to UK, Cal will play three games against the likes of Grand Canyon, Washington, and Washington State before entering the deep depths of hell. The Bears will then take on No. 1 Stanford in BACK-TO-BACK games (one home, one away) before heading to No. 4 Oregon State which will then be followed up with a trip to No. 3 Oregon just two days later.

Yikes.

The game won’t be broadcasted on TV, but you can still listen on the UK Sports Network or stream it live from the University’s website, which you can find here.

Tip is set for 7 p.m.

Article written by Zack Geoghegan

Covering all things NBA and UK Hoops. Follow me on Twitter: @ZGeogheganKSR