Cal Women's Basketball: Bears, New Coach Charmin Smith Face Harvard in Season-Opener

Jake Curtis

Cal’s women’s basketball team will have a completely new look when it opens the 2019-20 regular season with a road game against Harvard on Friday.

Charmin Smith will be the head coach in a regular-season basketball game for the first time in her life, and she will field a Cal team that has only one returning starter from last season’s squad, which went 20-13 and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Jaelyn Brown is the only starter who is back, and freshmen will play a significant role this season for a Cal team that was picked to finish 11th in the Pac-12 in the preseason coaches poll.

The first test will be Harvard, which was picked to finish third in the Ivy league in the preseason coaches poll and is 1-0 after its 59-53 victory over Northern Illinois on Tuesday.  Friday's Cal-Harvard game will be carried live on ESPN-plus.

Two days after facing Harvard, the young Bears will take on fifth-ranked Connecticut in Storrs, Conn., -- a game that will test their mental toughness.

“We’re not afraid to go to Harvard for our first game,” Smith said. “We’re not afraid to go to UConn for our second game, because we’re willing to compete.”

Expectations were high at the start of last season, when the Bears started the season ranked 24th and climbed as high as 13th before falling out of the rankings.

It was a surprising home loss to Harvard last Dec. 30 that started the Bears’ decline.

Gone from that Cal team are five key performers – starters Kristine Anigwe, Recee Caldwell, Asha Thomas and Kianna Smith as well as McKenzie Forbes. The loss of Smith, who transferred to Louisville, and Forbes, who transferred to Harvard, were particularly disappointing. (Forbes will not play for the Crimson in Friday’s game)

Freshman Leilani McIntosh is expected to be the starting point guard for Cal.

“Often times I’m thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, where would we be without this kid?’” Smith said. “She really controls things on both ends of the floor.”

Freshman Evelien Lutje Schipholt was impressive off the bench in the Bears’ two exhibition wins.

Two other freshmen, Cailyn Crocker and Jazlen Green, also figure to get significant playing time, although Green was held out of the exhibitions because of concussion symptoms.

Besides Brown, the players most likely to be productive offensively this season are post player CJ West, who was an important part of last year’s team, and guard Anastasia Anastasieska, who sat out last season with a back injury.