Maybe debuting this picture last week was a mistake. Maybe P-Chris saw it and it went to his head. Maybe he just felt its presence in the atmosphere. In any case, he had a pretty terrible showing in New York: 11-34 shooting, 2-12 on threes, only 7 boards, 6 assists/5 turnovers in two games. Yeah, he struggled. But you know what? I stand by this graphic, mostly because it took me 2 hours to make. I also think Christopher is going to be a lot better than 12 points, 3 boards, and 33% shooting per game this year. So let's stick with this picture for now in the hope that P-Chris lights up Jacksonville and Princeton this week. And if you don't like it...email me a different one: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christopher also struggled last year in the NCAA tournament loss to Maryland, shooting 4-14 and 0-7 on threes. Does he get rattled by the big stage? Maybe. If so, I'm glad that we scheduled this early season tournament, and the game at Kansas. Hopefully Christopher will got the jitters out early and redeem himself in March.
It's also possible that he struggles against long, athletic defenders. We all know that Christoper is not great at creating his own shot, which may be exacerbated when he goes up against a very athletic team like Syracuse. I can't remember if Maryland's stud Grevis Vasquez guarded him in last year's tournament game, but I wouldn't be surprised.
It's probably a little unfair to single out Christopher, as virtually the entire team struggled in New York. If you were lucky enough to miss these games, Cal lost by 22 to Syracuse and was down 24 to Ohio State before losing by 6. The Syracuse game was a complete beat down, made slightly better by the Cuse dominating defending champ North Carolina in the second half the following night. Cal was actually in worse shape the next night versus Ohio State when Monty got T'd up for yapping about Jorge. Cal responded with a 17-2 run and it was moderately close (6-10 points) the rest of the way, but not nearly close enough that you actually felt the Bears had a chance.
The big bright spot? Jerome Randle. He went for 51 points in the two games on the strength of ridiculous (only not for him) three point shooting: 11-21. It was even more impressive given that he was really Cal's only offense, and the other teams knew it. He's got such a quick release that he needs very little room to launch a three, which he does with spectacular accuracy off the dribble. When defenders come up on him, he'll beat them off the dribble and has developed a great array of mid range floaters to compensate for his serious lack of height. He struggled with turnovers against Syracuse, but that was basically his only blemish from the weekend.
He can't do it all
Getting blown out for 65 of 80 minutes wasn't ideal, but it's not like Cal was playing Sac St. or CSU Fullerton. Syracuse looks like a really, really good team, and OSU (and especially Evan Turner) isn't bad either. These are tournament teams, probably better than anyone in the Pac-10.
Cal wasn't playing with a full roster, either. After Harper Kamp didn't suit up against Murray St and Detroit, it was basically a given that he wasn't playing in New York. That didn't make our circus sideshow center-combo any more effective, and when Max is playing extended first half minutes against a Syracuse team with a bevy of experienced, athletic big men, it's probably going to be a long night. Jamal Boykin picked up his second foul only two minutes into the Syracuse game and Cal was in a world of trouble. With Amoke playing 20 minutes at the 4 and Max playing 12 at the 5, Cal was simply outmatched.
Theo Roberston's absence was the surprise. He apparently had swelling in his foot starting Tuesday, practiced in limited fashion on Wednesday, and was in a boot by Thursday. At the women's game on Sunday, I asked Markhuri Sanders-Frison if Theo would play tonight against Jacksonville: "Nope." This is not good news. I am hoping that they're just holding him out as a precaution, but lingering injuries are sadly familiar to Theo. He missed all of the 2007-2008 season recovering from hip surgery; every week, when asked if Theo was going to return, the coaching staff said "maybe next week".
Theo out of the lineup left a major hole. Syracuse plays a 2-3 zone, and what do you need to break down said zone? Shooters! Randle certainly shot the ball well, but with no Theo and Christopher struggling, Cal's offense faltered. Syracuse's defense was literally tilted away from what would have been Theo's side of the floor, as the Orange gave plenty of room and no respect to Jorge and Amoke on the wing. Christopher in particular had nowhere to go. Syracuse made sure they had plenty of bodies guarding him, and were content to let other Cal wings shoot and drive.
Their strategy worked so spectacularly well that OSU copied it the following afternoon. Monty said that he never expected to see 80 minutes of zone, and it was clear that without Theo, Cal was not going to be able to crack it. Cal did make a run against the Buckeyes in the second half, but the deficit was too great.
Theo's absence created a trickle down effect (a real one!). It moved Jorge into a starting role, and he was obviously not going to provide Theo's size and shooting. Jorge is much better coming off the bench, when he can inject some energy into the game and can play his aggressive defense. As a starter, he needed to stay out of foul trouble and play more minutes than usual, greatly limiting his effectiveness. Cal's comeback against OSU died when Jorge fouled out, and you have to think he would have had fewer minutes and fouls had Theo been in the lineup. With Jorge starting, DJ Seeley and Nicola were forced into Jorge's 6th man role and were no substitute for the man himself. My guess is that with Theo, Cal stays within 12-15 points against Syracuse (like UNC did) and beats Ohio State.
No Theo means more George-Michael
This is a completely different team without Theo Roberston and Harper Kamp. If those two return and can play at a relatively high level, Cal should be able to make a nice run this year. If not, the Bears will struggle to make the NCAA tournament.
If two blowouts were not enough, you might have considered attending the women's game versus Baylor, Sunday afternoon at Haas. Really, we were all still too high on Big Game euphoria to get worked up about a 20 point loss. The game went on, we were getting killed but you still had to smile thinking about rushing the field and booing that front runner Tiger Woods. Mike Tepper trying to be discrete in a hipster hat, while he and BearBallCarrier texted away? Check and double check!
He doesn't stand out at all
Baylor has a freshmen center who is 6'8. No, really. To put that in perspective, she's taller than our starting center. Our men's starting center, 6'7 Markhuri Sanders-Frison. She's a foot taller than Jerome Randle.
Here she is, lining up next to our freshman, Gennifer Brandon. Brandon is 6'2, and doesn't have the wingspan of a mature California Condor. Thus, she looks tiny next to gigantic Brittney Griner. PaleoDan mentioned something about a thyroid condition. I think he was jealous. I think we all were.
Cal didn't have much of an answer for Griner, offensively or defensively. Cal actually started strong offensively, giving Brandon the ball at the three point line to draw Griner away from the basket and having the much faster Brandon drive to the hoop. After about 10 minutes, Baylor adjusted (how, I couldn't really tell you, because I was too busy recounting my hug with the prophet Mohamed) and Cal's offense was basically abysmal for the rest of the game. Defensively, Cal tried to pack the paint against Griner, to little success. With the Cal defense collapsed against Griner, Baylor had all kinds of space and their wings were able to get good looks. Sometimes Griner passed over the double team. Sometimes she just shot it over our posts' heads (she finished with 15 points and one very near dunk). Let me reiterate: she is really, really big.
Still exceptionally big
Fortunately for us, it will be a long time before the Cal women play against a 6'8 lady again, unless we're playing Baylor next year. Our freshmen bigs, though not as freakishly tall, looked good. Gennifer Brandon is really fast for her size and was smooth rebounding and scoring for a freshmen. DeNesha Stallworth, our other starting freshmen post, is a very gifted scorer with great range (out to and beyond the three point arc) and great touch around the hoop. Talia Caldwell has a rebounder's body and I'm sure will be effective against regular sized posts. The last freshman big, Brenna Heater, was in street clothes on the bench.
The freshmen guards: Eliza Pierre reminds me of a thoroughbred. She's very sleek, thin, and exceptionally fast. Think of her as the female version of Jorge. Layshia Clarendon didn't show too much, but she was going against a talented, experienced Baylor back court. Sorry women's bball fans, but that's all I have for now. Not that bad for a 20 point blowout, basking in Big Game afterglow, right?
The Cal men showed up to support the ladies. Patrick Christopher, ever the fashion icon, rocks the classic sandals with socks:
Bak Bak goes with the George Costanza inspired "drape myself in velvet":
I tried taking a picture of Jorge, but either he's too fast or divine because all of the photos came out blurry. Which one is it? I'm going with both.
Men's game tonight vs Jacksonville, Haas Pavilion, 7:30 PM. Show up, people! Go Bears!