Cal women take on Stanford's giant-killers

Cal's DeNesha Stallworth struggles with Baylor's Melissa Jones on Sunday in Berkeley.
Cal's DeNesha Stallworth struggles with Baylor's Melissa Jones on Sunday in Berkeley.Lacy Atkins/The Chronicle

While it's never a good time to face the Stanford women's basketball team, now is probably as good a time as any for Cal as the teams prepare for the start of Pac-10 play Sunday at Haas Pavilion.

The Cardinal are on a high after ending Connecticut's record 90-game victory streak Thursday night and might find it tough to come back to earth to play a supposed rival that it leads 55-17 in the all-time series.

Then again, it might not.

"I don't know if there's ever a good time to play them, but it's a good challenge for us," Cal coach Joanne Boyle said. "Tara (VanDerveer) will have them prepared to play. It will be a big challenge for us to see where we are."

The Bears are 8-3 after being on the road for 10 days and winning two of three, including a 65-61 win at Illinois on Tuesday. Cal has scored two wins over Stanford since the 2006-07 season.

"We've been a little inconsistent," Boyle said. "Our record is OK. We should have won one or two more games. We're an inconsistent team now. It's a new season for us. We look at our nonconference games as a season. It's to use these 11 games to mature and make those freshmen and sophomores understand what we want. I'm hoping we can be more consistent going into Pac-10."

Boyle is getting big contributions from three sophomores. Forward DeNesha Stallworth leads the Bears in scoring at 16.7 points per game and also averages 7.2 rebounds. Center Talia Caldwell, like Stallworth 6-foot-3, is the top rebounder at 9.3 to go with 11.0 points per game. Guard Layshia Clarendon averages 13.6 points.

"I like the youth on our team," Stallworth said. "We're so young, as time goes on, our understanding will improve, and when that happens, we're going to be hard to stop. I feel like we're getting better. We have the talent and everything. We're trying to put everything together - being patient, running our offense, making the right passes and getting nice, simple shots."

Noting her three leading scorers and three others who contribute at least five points per game, Boyle said, "We have three of our sophomores averaging double figures. We're asking for a lot of production from them. (Lindsay) Sherbert has come along as a freshman. It's nice to have different people in the scoring column. It makes us more difficult to guard."

Sunday's game against Stanford is the first of three Pac-10 games in a row at Haas for the Bears, a welcome stretch for Boyle after taking her team on the road from Dec. 18-28.

"It's nice to be at home and get our bearings," she said. "It's good to be home for the next two weeks."

Even if that stretch begins against the team that beat the team that had been unbeatable for so long.