Six-(Wo)man Rotations Don't Win Titles

Ashley Walker (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

If the No. 9 ranked Cal women's basketball team looked tired down the stretch against UCLA on Sunday, it wasn't because of the 8:00 a.m. wakeup call, nor was it the earlier-than-usual noon tipoff time. 27 games into the season, it seems that this "lack of depth" issue that we've all been hearing about has finally caught up with the Bears, again.

"At this time a year, every team is tired, you know. There's a lot of teams that are playing six and seven people," Cal coach Joanne Boyle said following the 15-point loss to the Bruins. "There's just teams like that."

The notion that many teams around the country are playing with the type of rotation that the Bears are may have some truth to it, but not amongst the elite teams in the country.

Of the other nine teams ranked in the AP poll's top 10, only Auburn's starters average more minutes than Cal's. And if Devanei Hampton doesn't miss half the season recovering from knee surgery, which may not be so either, as her 23 minutes per game would likely be much higher.

So what does this mean?

For those that think the Bears can rely on talent alone in the Pac-10 and NCAA tournaments (and believe me, stacked up against the rest of the country, few teams have more raw talent), here's some numbers over the past three seasons:

Since the Bears' premier recruiting class that involved Hampton, Ashley Walker, Alexis Gray-Lawson and Shantrell Sneed, just seven players a year have averaged double-digit minutes, with at least three players notching 30 minutes per ball game.

That strain for 29-30 games during each regular season took a noticeable toll on Cal, leading to lackluster performances down the stretch and just one NCAA tournament win in three years.

And how about this season?

Well, pretty much the exact same story.

To date, just seven Bears average double-digit minutes (excluding Rama N'Diaye's sporadic playing time). And if you round up Gray-Lawson's 29.6 mpg, then four of them are in the 30s. And it shows.

Cal recorded 49 turnovers in two games in LA, leading to a narrow two-point win at USC and a likely conference championship killer against UCLA.

But maybe the Bears maturity will get them through it…I mean; Walker, Lauren Greif and Natasha Vital have averaged 30 minutes per game since they put on their California jerseys. But if fatigue really had nothing to do with the Bears forgettable weekend in SoCal, they're going to have to prove it tonight against an Arizona State team that is fresher (and hotter) than just about every team in the country.

To say that Cal is more talented than the Sun Devils is like comparing apples with, well, much less talented oranges, but Charli Turner-Thorne has managed to take a subpar team and turn them into a top-20 team by utilizing what else, depth.

ASU averages 12 players in double-figure minutes, with the highest number (Briann January) peaking at just 27 mpg.

If a UCLA squad that was dealing with its own injury issues and lack of a bench tuckered the Bears out, then Cal could be in trouble tonight. It's a game that a lot of people around the country will look at as a measuring stick as to just how much of a dent the Bears can make come tourney time.

Talk about it in the CSD Forums.


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