Feb. 25, 2002
BERKELEY - California (7-20, 2-16 Pac-10, 9th) opens the inaugural State Farm Pac-10 Women's Basketball Tournament against UCLA (8-19, 4-14, 8th) Friday, March 1, at 8:45 p.m. The Bruins are the No. 8 seed, while the Bears are No. 9. The winner faces top-seed Stanford (28-1, 18-0) in the quarterfinals Saturday at 6 p.m. The tournament runs March 1-4, in Eugene, Ore.
The Bears are coming off road losses to UCLA, 58-48, and USC, 69-58, in the final regular season games over the weekend. The Bruins defeated Cal, 64-48, in the first meeting this year in Berkeley, and thus have the tough task of beating the Bears three times to advance to the quarterfinals.
The Pac-10 tournament is an opportunity for the young Bears to start fresh with the winner earning the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Cal has experienced many growing pains this year, but that can be expected from a team which features nine newcomers, including six true freshmen. The Bears did open the season 4-0.
Head coach Caren Horstmeyer is not a novice to the post-season conference tournament, leading Santa Clara to the West Coast Conference Tournament Championship in 1992 and 1998.
Senior Ami Forney, Cal's only returning starter from last year's 12-16 team (8-10 Pac-10) has provided the Bears much-needed leadership all season. She leads the club in scoring (11.7 ppg, 15th Pac-10), rebounding (6.7 rpg, 7th Pac-10) and blocked shots (10 total).
Freshmen Leigh Gregory (forward) and Kristin Iwanaga (guard) have been regular starters for the Bears. Gregory is coming off career-highs for points (17) and steals (3) against USC and is third on the team in scoring at 8.9 ppg. Iwanaga leads Cal and ranks third in the Pac-10 in free throw percentage at 85.9.
As a team, Cal has excelled on the defensive end most of the season, ranking third in the league for scoring defense (63.9 ppg) and second for three-point shooting defense at .315. The catalyst of the Bears defense is junior forward Amber White, who is usually assigned to an opponent's top scorer regardless of position.
The Bears are hopeful that sophomore Ukrainian center Olga Volkova may be declared eligible to play in time for the UCLA game or for a possible second-round game against Stanford. She has missed six of the recommended eight-game suspension for an NCAA amateur athlete violation.