Head coach Charmin Smith enters her fifth season leading the Golden Bears. She has been on the bench for Cal for most of the past 15 seasons, coaching in various capacities.
Smith was part of a coaching team that saw the Bears regularly get in postseason play since she began as an assistant coach in 2007. Since 2019-20, however, Cal has struggled to be relevant in the Pac-12. They have regularly occupied the cellar in conference play. Last season, Cal (13-17, 4-14 Pac-12) managed to stay out of the bottom of the Pac-12, tying for 10th place with Oregon State. They weren’t able to gain any traction in the Pac-12 tournament, as they were the first victim to WSU and the Cougars’ Pac-12 Championship run.
Last season, the Golden Bears lagged behind their opponents in most offensive and defensive categories, and it should be no surprise that the gap was significantly widened in Pac-12 play.
A bright spot for Cal was freshman 5-6 PG Jayda Curry. Curry started every game and easily lead the Bears offensively with 15.5 PPG. She also shot a respectable 77.5% from the line. 6-0 junior G Kemery Martin was the only other player to shoot double-digits PPG with a 10.6 average. Rounding out the top three was senior 5-5 PG Leilani McIntosh with 9.6 PPG. Curry and Martin were far and away the primary 3PT threat; Curry shot 59/176 (33.5%) and Martin shot 59/155 (38.1%).
The other primary starters last season were 5-5 senior G Leilani McIntosh, 6-1 GT F Peanut Tuitele, and 6-2 senior F Evellen Lutje Schipholt.
Unfortunately, Cal lost their freshman star to the transfer portal when Curry went to Louisville. Evellen Lutje Schipholt transferred to South Florida, and Peanut Tuitele graduated. The Bears retained their other starters for the 23-24 season; Kemery Martin and Leilani McIntosh.
California signed two freshman guards: 5-9 Lulu Laditan-Twidale and 5-11 Anastasia Drosouni.
The Bears made heavy use of the transfer portal to bring in some veteran help.
Ioanna Krimli is a 5-10 graduate transfer from San Francisco. Last season she averaged 16.6 PPG for the Dons and she can shoot the three. She also shot a scorching 87.1% from the line.
6-4 senior F/C Ila Lane transferred from UC Santa Barbara. Last season she averaged 11.8 PPG and 8.2 RPG for the Gauchos.
California also brought in 6-1 senior G McKayla Williams from Gonzaga. Williams was used sparingly in her first two seasons at Gonzaga. She played all 34 games in 21-22 but did not start. Williams started all 34 games last season and had a very respectable jump in her stats. If she can keep up the trajectory in her game, she will be a solid addition to Cal.
Finally, the Bears brought in Marta Suarez from Tennessee. Suarez is a 6-3 R-Jr G/F that stepped away from college basketball in January, for personal reasons, to return to her native Spain. Stats are inconclusive for Suarez so it remains to be seen what she can bring to the Bears this season.
The team that California fronts this season is an overwhelmingly veteran squad, even as they have not played together as a team for long. Of the 14 players on the roster, there are only three freshmen and sophomores.
The Bears are not a particularly lengthy team, with their tallest players not being over 6-4 (two at 6-3, two at 6-4). Cal should do well again in non-conference play, but it’s hard to envision a breakout season from this team once they hit the conference segment of the season. If they find themselves in the middle 1⁄3 of the Pac-12 at season’s end, then they can be heartened with the improvement over the past few seasons and call 23-24 successful.