Oct. 21, 2003
BERKELEY, Calif. - After three years of laying the groundwork under head coach Caren Horstmeyer, the California women's basketball team is poised to have a winning record and advance to the postseason in 2003-04.
Last season, Cal recorded a 10-19 overall record and a ninth-place finish in the Pac-10 with a 5-13 mark. This was three more total wins and three more conference victories than the year before.
"Even though it didn't show as much as we would have liked in our record last year, we were a much improved team from the previous year," said Horstmeyer, who enters her fourth season at Cal as the fourth-winningest active coach (250-180) in terms of career victories in the Pac-10. "We felt we had players who elevated our level of play - from incoming freshmen, to transfers, to experienced returning players. We made some great strides last year. Our goal is to continue to make the same strides this year and to have it show more in terms of our record."
For the fourth time in the last five years, Cal posted double-digit wins in 2002-03 and featured several memorable moments. The most noteworthy win for Horstmeyer was the team's 46-38 triumph over Arizona State in the opening round of the Pac-10 Tournament.
"Winning the first game of the Pac-10 Tournament was huge for our program," said Horstmeyer of her 250th-career win. "We came out and clearly had control of the game. That was our postseason. The year before we lost our first game in the conference tournament. Defeating Arizona State was the first step in terms of where we want to be."
This season, the ingredients are in place for Cal to play beyond the Pac-10 Tournament and into the NCAA or NIT Tournaments. The Bears are a veteran unit with three seniors and six juniors accounting for 11 of their returning letterwinners. Cal also benefits from showcasing five of last year's top six scorers, including returning starters Nihan Anaz (guard), Kristin Iwanaga (guard) and Leigh Gregory (forward).
Anaz, a senior who hails from Istanbul, Turkey, had an immediate impact during her inaugural season in Berkeley after playing a year each at South Carolina and Weatherford College in Texas. She led Cal in scoring (10.1 ppg), posting 12 double-digit scoring performances, including a team-high 18 in the Pac-10 Tournament win over the Sun Devils.
The group of top returning scorers hopefully means a breakout year for the Bears' offense, which has averaged under 60 points per game over the last two campaigns. While Cal plans to breathe more life into its attack, the Bears know that their defense, which has ranked in the upper half of the league for five straight seasons, is key to their success.
"Defensively, we'll be a lot better this year," said Horstmeyer. "Our focus will be defense, and we will let our offense come from that. With that in mind, offense will be a strength this year. Our perimeter shooting will be much improved. The inside-outside game will be good, and we'll probably spread the floor a little bit more."
While talent and coaching are the cornerstones of excellent teams, better leadership may be the most important quality Cal needs to make a bigger dent in the win column.
"Developing leadership with our team is an area we've worked hard on from the spring through the summer," said Horstmeyer, whose program was 6-7 in games decided by 10 points or less last season. "That's the piece that's missing for us. For us to take the next step, it's going to come down to good leadership. With good leadership, we're going to do a better job of playing two good games in one week, winning close contests and competing better on the road."
Cal welcomes back the starting backcourt of Anaz and Kristin Iwanaga, the Bears' 2002-03 co-MVPs. Anaz, a 5-9 shooting guard, sparked the team on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor last season. The senior led the Bears in scoring (10.1 ppg) and steals (36 total, 1.5 spg), while also averaging 2.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game.
"Nihan has meant so much because she is an all-around player," said Horstmeyer. "She can pass, she can shoot, she can D it up. Nihan can do everything on the floor. There's nothing she can't do. But, we need her to be more consistent with her shooting."
A two-year starter at point guard, Iwanaga enters her junior season after averaging 7.3 points per game as a sophomore and pacing the Bears in assists (2.9 apg), three pointers made (28) and three-point shooting percentage (.394). The 5-6 product from Santa Clara, Calif., has distinguished herself as the Pac-10's all-time career free throw percentage leader at 87.1, and her 88.1 free throw clip from last year is the best season percentage (minimum 50 made to qualify) in school history.
"K.I.'s maturity has developed over the summer," said Horstmeyer. "She's always been a mature player, but now she's a junior and is able to take on more responsibility. We want K.I. to shoot the ball more, and she's prepared to do that."
Senior LaTasha O'Keith, a 5-7 off-guard who excels at driving to the basket, looks to return to her sophomore year form when she averaged 9.2 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game as a starter on her way to honorable mention All-Pac-10 recognition. Last season, the Carson, Calif., native contributed 3.3 points, 1.5 rebounds and 0.4 steals per game as a reserve. O'Keith keyed last year's Cal home victory over Arizona State with a career-high 18 points.
"LaTasha has come back with a renewed passion," said Horstmeyer of one of her team's three seniors. "She's worked hard in our individual work sessions. We must utilize her ability to get to the basket to score or to dish to an open teammate."
Sarah Pool, a 5-7 point guard from Central Point, Ore., is expected to be a major factor in the Bears' offense. Pool will be asked to up her scoring in 2003-04 after averaging 3.2 ppg and making 14 treys, the second most on the team in 2002-03. She also converted a team-best 91.3 percent from the charity stripe. The sophomore showed her scoring potential when she notched a season-best 16 points in Cal's 73-61 win over Washington State.
Jacqueline Sanchez, a 5-8 junior who grew up in North Highlands, Calif., is capable of playing multiple positions for the Bears. Sanchez is another player whom Horstmeyer will depend on for increased point production, as she can shoot from the outside and use her strength to post up. She tallied 2.6 points and 2.0 rebounds per game a year ago after transferring from Chattanooga State Technical Community College in Tennessee. Her best outing was a 10-point, seven-rebound performance at Saint Mary's.
Freshman Keanna Levy, a 5-10 shooting guard out of Waterloo, Iowa, was the 2003 Iowa Gatorade High School Player of the Year and should provide an immediate lift to the Bears. Levy is listed as one of the top 50 players by All-Star Girls Report and one of the top 100 by the Blue Star Report.
"Keanna is probably our most athletic player and has done well in the weight room," said Horstmeyer. "Driving to the basket and three-point shooting are her strong points. She comes from an extremely demanding high school program, so she should adjust well to playing Division 1 basketball."
Returning at power forward is junior Leigh Gregory, a tireless worker who finds a way to score on the blocks and from the outside, despite being only six-feet tall. A product of Pleasant Hill, Calif., Gregory was third on the team last season in scoring at 9.2 ppg and second in rebounding at 4.9 rpg. She held team-high scoring honors seven times, including five of the final nine games of the season.
"Leigh worked hard over the summer playing on a Bay Area pro-am team," said Horstmeyer. "We'll look for Leigh to score in more situations. Drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line is an emphasis."
The Bears must replace Amber White, who started at small forward the last two campaigns and earned three straight team Defensive MVP awards. Options for Cal include juniors Kiki Williams and Alisa Lewis, and sophomore Rene, Wright.
Williams, a 6-1 athlete who hails from San Rafael, Calif., was the Bears' top reserve last year, averaging 5.3 points and 3.0 rebounds in 12.2 minutes per contest. She poured in 15 or more points on four occasions and paced the team in scoring in three of those games.
"Kiki has ignited our offense with some quick points off the bench on numerous occasions," said Horstmeyer. "She has developed in the post over the last three years. We'll look for Kiki to play tough defense for us and to be consistent from the perimeter."
Lewis is one of the best defenders on the team and is gaining confidence on the offensive end of the court. The 5-11 Spokane, Wash., native earned the starting nod in Cal's first four games of 2002-03.
The 5-11 Wright was effective as a freshman last year, especially as a man-to-man defender and rebounder. Out of Antelope, Calif., she contributed 2.7 points and 2.7 rebounds per game during her rookie season. Wright's season bests of 12 points and 11 rebounds were instrumental in Cal's 69-61 triumph at UCLA.
Junior Khadijah Coakley, a 6-1 physical interior presence from San Diego, Calif., came to Cal as a diamond in the rough and has made huge strides as a rebounder and with her offensive footwork. In limited minutes last season, she averaged 1.6 points and 2.1 rebounds per game.
Cal returns half of its 6-4 twin towers. Timea Ivanyi, from Szeged, Hungary, ranked first and second on the team in rebounding (5.3 rpg) and scoring (9.8 ppg), respectively, during her only season of Bears' eligibility in 2002-03.
With Ivanyi's departure, senior Olga Volkova will look to be more of an offensive threat and to continue to be strong on the glass. She hauled in 4.1 rebounds per game, including a career best of nine against Stanford, in just under 13 minutes per outing a year ago. In Cal's win over Oregon State last season, Volkova showed her ability to score, posting a career-high 10 points. The Kiev, Ukraine, product also is the Bears' top returner for blocks with 14.
"Olga has taken her knee brace off and is a lot more agile," said Horstmeyer. "Her strength has improved tremendously. She'll look to be a force in the post offensively and defensively. We also need Olga to lead our team in rebounding."
Emmelie Geraedts, a 6-2 freshman from Weert, The Netherlands, also looks to contribute at center this season. At 18 years old, she is the youngest member of the Dutch national team and has won division titles with three different European amateur club teams. "Emmelie has been a very pleasant surprise as a freshman," said Horstmeyer. "She's a quick learner, and her fundamentals are sound. She has a great work ethic and a great future ahead of her."
Cal tips off the season at home at Haas Pavilion with exhibition games on Nov. 2 against a Bay Area Pro-Am team and Nov. 15 against Team Concept. The regular-season opener is at home Sunday, Nov. 23, against South Carolina State. Cal has averaged over 1000 fans per game at home for three straight seasons.
After entertaining San Jose State on Nov. 25, the Bears play their only three non-conference road contests of the year, beginning with the Nov. 28-29 Coors Classic in Boulder, Colo., hosted by the University of Colorado, and then a visit to Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas, on Dec. 1. The Buffaloes advanced to the 2003 NCAA Sweet 16, while the Lady Raiders moved on to the NCAA Elite Eight. Last season, Cal lost to Colorado in the championship game of the Oakland Tribune Classic.
Following the Bears' visit to the Lone Star State, they return to Berkeley for a six-game home stand, their longest of the season. The stretch begins Dec. 6-7 with the 13th-annual Oakland Tribune Classic, which boasts a field of Cal, 2003 NCAA Tournament participant Tulane, Miami (OH) and Wichita State. Cal then hosts Nevada on Dec. 19 and Canisius on Dec. 21, before its Pac-10 opening weekend against Oregon (Dec. 27) and Oregon State (Dec. 29).
The third-annual Pac-10 Tournament takes place March 5-8 at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif.