Before we head into this game preview, I want to give a big shoutout to Yvonne Ejim. Every game she brings fierce energy on both ends of the court and been amazingly consistent as she’s averaging 20 points (66.9% FG), 8.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1 block, while eliminating the foul troubles that were bubbling in the first few games. Her performances have earned her accolades within the conference, but the big win against Stanford turned the nation’s eye as she was named as the ESPN, AP, and the Anne Meyers Drysdale Player of the Week. Long may her dominance continue.
Tonight, Yvonne and #23 Gonzaga Bulldogs have travelled south to the Bay to take on the California Golden Bears for the first time ever and reunite with former Zag, McKayla Williams, at 10pm ET in the Haas Pavilion for a game that will be televised on the Pac-12 Network (link). Let’s take a look at what the Bears may bring to the table tonight.
Heading into the season, Coach Charmin Smith was looking to turn around a program that hadn’t made the postseason, had a winning overall record, and won just 9 conference games since taking the role in 2019. So far, the Golden Bears have won 7 of 8 with their lone loss coming at home to a Texas A&M team currently receiving four votes in the AP poll. They haven’t played any ranked teams so it’s hard to totally estimate where they stand given that they went 9-2 last season before entering conference play.
Ila Lane was named to the Lisa Leslie Award preseason watchlist for the third time in her career, but has only averaged about 10 minutes per game with just one start so far this season, although this came in the team’s last game on the 2nd against St. Mary’s in which she dropped 15 points on 7-9 shooting to go along with 7 rebounds. I’m not sure if she’s had injury problems, but given that she’s just one nineteen active players in NCAA Division I women’s basketball to record at least 1,000 points and 800 rebounds for her career and just one of three active players to achieve that milestone in 75 games or less, I would hate to underestimate her ability to make a big impact on the court.
Ionna Krimili features as the top scorer for the Golden Bears with just over 15 ppg, but she hasn’t played since the November 13th. While ESPN highlights her as active, she’s not listed in the Cal news article highlighting this game so I’m assuming she’s injured, which leaves the 6’3” forward from Spain, Marta Suarez as the leading scorer with 14.5 ppg (42.6% FG and 35% 3FG). While she’ll stretch the floor (5 3FGA/g), don’t expect her to just hang out there as she leads the team in usage rate (29.8%) and is third on the team in rebounding (6.3 rbg).
Leilani McIntosh ranks second on the team in scoring with 11.8 ppg (42.9% FG and 41.7% 3FG) but she will look to distribute to her teammates often as evidenced by her 6.3 apg and assists her teammates on 36% of their field goals while on the floor so active hands and stout positioning will be needed to cut of Cal’s floor general.
McKayla Williams ranks second on the team in minutes with 31.1 per game and I suspect this may have been the primary drive behind her transferring from Gonzaga as I can’t really see her getting anywhere close to that load with the current team. She’s producing very similar scoring numbers compared to last year’s with the Bulldogs at 7 ppg (42.6% FG and 20% 3FG), but shown a massive increase in her rebounding acumen (7.9 rbg including 3 orbg) so Maxwell or whoever else guards her will need to boxout well to limit her numbers.
Overall, this Golden Bears team is scoring 72 ppg (104th nationally) and will be looking to shoot often from beyond the three point line as they average 29 attempts per game (29th nationally) that they convert at an average of 31.3%. Defensively, this team is holding their opponents to just 50.6 ppg (60th nationally) and the Zags ought to be careful with their passing as five players are averaging one or more steals per game (seven if you include Kemery Martin and McKayla Williams who both sit at 0.9).
Fun fact about Cal, they feature three players from Greece (freshman guard Anastasia Drosouni, senior guard Ionna Krimili, and senior guard Ornela Muca), two players from Spain (junior forward Claudia Langarita and junior forward Marta Suarez), one player from Sweden (senior guard Alma Esnitz), and one player from Australia (freshman guard Lulu Laditan-Twidale). That’s an impressive diversity of talent from across the globe and, while not necessarily relevant for this game, is really cool to see. Additionally, this game looks to celebrate that wide reach as the Cal news article highlights that International students are encouraged to attend the game and will be given the opportunity to be a part of the team’s pregame festivities to along with themed giveaways and photo opportunities at halftime.
Let’s hope the Zags aren’t hungover after their massive win against the Cardinal and can show out big on this road trip to potentially boost their ranking further. Be sure to hit the comments below to give your impressions on the game tonight!