Oct. 15, 1999
BERKELEY - The stage is set for the California women's basketball team to make some noise in the Pac-10 Conference and on the national scene in the 1999-2000 season.
Last season, the Golden Bears made a rumble at the Kaiser Arena in Oakland, but this season they look to roar in the new 12,300-seat Haas Pavilion on campus. The $57.5 million structure, a remodeled and enlarged version of old Harmon Gym, opens this fall after two years of construction.
"The Kaiser Arena was great as a temporary home, but there's no place like home," said head coach Marianne Stanley, who enters her fourth season at Cal with a 20-year career record of 404-207. "We're excited to return to campus and play in a state-of-the art arena. We hope to start a reign of terror in there.
"The opening of the Haas Pavilion is an exciting time for the Cal athletic family. Constructing the Haas Pavilion is a reflection of the university's commitment to our basketball program. Everything is coming together at the right time - a new building and a full complement of players and staff ready to play the style of basketball we want to play at Cal. "
Coming off its best season in six years, Cal brings to Haas the momentum of a 10-4 home record in 1998-99. Last year, Cal posted a 12-15 overall record and a 6-12 Pac-10 mark, doubling the six wins and improving on the two conference wins the previous season. Cal also tied for sixth in the conference last year, its highest finish since tying for fourth in the '92-93 season.
The holidays came early for the Bears last season as they claimed the 1998 Oakland Tribune Classic, Dec. 21, with a win over ninth-ranked and then-undefeated Colorado State, 80-75. The game marked the only time Colorado State, which was ranked as high as No. 4 in the country, lost in the regular season.
Cal finished last season a winner of four of its final six contests, narrowly missing a bid to the Women's National Invitation Tournament. Expectations are even higher for this year's team as the Bears have an excellent chance of posting their first winning season since 1992-93 and likewise their first NCAA bid since that same year.
"Our goal this year is to advance to the NCAA Tournament, which means finishing in the top four or five in the Pac-10," said Stanley. "If we can be in the top three in every defensive category in the conference and have a balanced offensive attack, I believe we will reach our goal of being a contender for postseason honors."
Defense has always been a hallmark of Stanley's teams. Last season was no different as the Bears ranked fourth in the conference in scoring defense at 67.7 points per game. With an arsenal of quick players, Cal looks to step up its defensive intensity even further this season to fulfill its long-term goals.
Despite graduating four seniors, including two starters, Cal has many reasons to believe it has the personnel to be successful during the final season of the 20th century. The Bears are an experienced team with seven upper-classmen - one senior and six juniors - and three returning starters.
Leading the way for Cal is senior Paige Bowie, a 1999 honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection who is coming off of her best overall season as a Bear. The 6-0 wing from Fresno, Calif., led her team in scoring last year for the second-consecutive season with 11.9 points per game, while also contributing 4.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.4 steals per game.
Bowie has a reputation as one of the most lethal three-point shooters in the conference. Last year, she converted on 31.9 percent of her three-point attempts (52-163), placing her fifth in Cal history for three-pointers made (97), fourth for attempts (323) and on pace to break both records (159 and 460).
"Everyone knows Paige can shoot the basketball," said Stanley. "I'm looking for Paige to diversify her game. We need her to feed the post and set other people up, but at the same time, she needs to be a go-to scoring threat from the perimeter."
While Bowie is a three-year starter at small forward, junior Lauren Ashbaugh is coming off her first season as Cal's starting power forward. A 6-2 post player from Redmond, Wash., Ashbaugh led Cal and ranked eighth in the Pac-10 last season in rebounding with 6.2 per game and contributed 5.8 points per game.
"Lauren enters the 1999-00 campaign healthy for the first time since her freshman year," said Stanley. "We expect a much bigger offensive contribution from Lauren this season."
Sophomore Ami Forney, a 6-2 forward/center from Newark, Calif., is expected to be a key contributor for Cal. As a freshman, Forney averaged six minutes a game and showed her rebounding and scoring potential.
"Ami has the ability to be one of the best rebounders in the Pac-10," said Stanley. "She will have to step up big for us on the glass at both ends of the court this season."
Redshirt sophomores Masa Radovic and Kawai Matthews also figure to be impact players for the Bears. Radovic, a versatile 6-1 forward from Belgrade, Yugoslavia, was a member of the Pac-10 All-Freshman team and Cal's co-MVP in 1997-98 when she averaged 10.9 points and 2.9 assists per game. In 1998-99, Radovic played in Cal's first three games before receiving a medical redshirt due to back and knee problems. The Bears missed her ballhandling, passing and shooting abilities last year.
Matthews, a 5-11 swing player who sat out the mandatory season after transferring from San Diego State, should see time at both forward positions. A native of Los Angeles, Matthews is a mature player, who is capable of scoring from the perimeter or down on the blocks. In a reserve roll for San Diego State in 1997-98, she averaged 4.4 points and 2.2 rebounds per game.
The lone freshman for the Bears is Amber White, a 6-0 forward/guard from Los Angeles, who comes to Cal from one of the most heralded high school programs in the country. White helped lead Narbonne High School to the 1998 Division I state title. She should see time at the three and four positions for Cal as she is a strong defensive player, who is capable of scoring inside and outside.
Cal must replace Jennie Leander, who finished her four-year Bear career last season as the 10th-leading scorer in school history with 1,144 points. Junior Genevieve Swedor, a 6-3 transfer from New Mexico Junior College, is a strong candidate to fill that hole for the Bears. Swedor is an aggressive post player who runs the floor well. She was recognized by many recruiting services as one of the top 10 post players in last year's junior college class, averaging 12 points and 10 rebounds per game. A native of Auvernier Switzerland, Swedor has been a member of Switzerland's National Team since 1998.
"Genevieve is someone who is going to rebound well for us, give us inside scoring and make it very difficult for other teams to slow down our fast-break," said Stanley.
Sophomore Shavaki Jackson, a 6-4 high school All-American center from Berkeley, was Cal's most consistent post player off the bench last year, averaging 7.4 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.
The 1999-00 Cal squad boasts an experienced backcourt, including junior Courtney Johnson, who returns as Cal's starting off-guard. The Antioch, Calif., native was named Cal's best defensive player last year after finishing second in the Pac-10 with 2.7 steals per game. Her 74 steals tied for eighth all-time on Cal's season chart. Johnson also emerged as Cal's third-leading scorer with 9.7 points per game, more than double her average (3.9) as a freshman.
Junior Kenya Corley, a 5-8 off-guard, also is a veteran member of Cal's backcourt. Corley saw the most playing time of any Cal reserve as a sophomore, averaging 18.2 minutes per game. An athletic player from Lancaster, Calif., Corley stepped up her numbers last year to 4.2 points and 2.2 rebounds per game and ranked fourth on the team in blocked shots with 12.
"This should be a breakthrough year for Kenya," said Stanley. "She is one of the most explosive offensive talents I've coached. The last half of her sophomore year she stepped up her scoring production, and I expect Kenya to play a big role in our entire scheme this year."
While the Bears must replace Sherrise Smith, last year's starting point guard and team MVP, they are excited about the arrival of two talented junior college point guards - Becky Staubes and Nicole Ybarra. For the first time in Stanley's tenure at Cal, she has the luxury of depth at the point guard position.
Stanley believes Cal can be successful with either player leading the team at the point but feels they bring different qualities to the court.
"Nicole is more of a passer, a quarterback-type player, who is very good at finding and setting up the open player," said Stanley. "Becky also has good ballhandling and passing skills, but she is more of a slasher to the basket. Both our point guards are versatile scorers, as well."
Ybarra, a 5-8 native of Elk Grove, Calif., starred at Sacramento City College, where she led her team to the state playoffs and twice earned all-conference honors. Ybarra played in the California junior college all-star game with Staubes, who was a two-time all-conference player at San Diego Mesa Community College. The 5-10 Lemon Grove, Calif., native led Mesa College to two conference titles and a combined record of 50-11 over two seasons.
Janet Franey, a 5-8 sophomore, is a second-year walk-on who could factor into the guard rotation. Franey saw action in nine games as a freshman, including seven Pac-10 contests.
"Janet is one of the most improved players on the team this season," said Stanley.
Cal closes out the century with one of its most challenging schedules in years. The Bears play eight teams who qualified for the 1999 NCAA Tournament, including four non-conference opponents - Santa Clara, Colorado State and North Carolina on the road, and Florida at home. Pac-10 rivals Oregon, UCLA, Stanford and Arizona also qualified for the Big Dance last year, maintaining the conference's streak of sending three or more teams to the tournament every year since the tournament's inception in 1982. Oregon and UCLA tied for the Pac-10 championship last season. Pepperdine and Washington, 1999 WNIT participants, are also on Cal's schedule.
The Bears compete in two tournaments this season. Cal hosts the 22nd-annual Oakland Tribune Classic, Dec. 18-19, at Haas Pavilion. The tournament features a competitive field - Cal, Florida, Pepperdine and Illinois-Chicago. Cal spends Thanksgiving in Fort Collins, Colo., at the Coors Rocky Mountain Invitational, Nov. 27-28, where the Bears face Idaho in the first round.
The Pac-10 has taken notice of Cal's recent improvement, and Stanley believes that this could be the year the Bears growl is heard throughout the country.
"Last year was a critical year for us as we approached the .500 mark," said Stanley. "This year, we believe we can have a breakthrough season, finish in the top half of the conference and earn an NCAA Tournament bid."