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As discussed in this space last week (I quote myself) "Simply put, without Randle playing at an all conference level, and without Harper Kamp and Jorge Gutierrez, Cal is not a very good team". We saw it two weeks ago - Randle was barfing and missing threes in the ucla game, so we lost. Randle went for 21 against usc and held the opposing point guard, Mike Gerrity, to four points and zero assists, and we won. Against WSU last Thursday, Randle scored 39 (6th most in school history), and Cal won in a game that was sadly not televised. We will have to rely on first hand accounts from the guys at CougCenter to relive one of the great individual performances in Cal basketball history. Saturday's game against UW was tragically televised, allowing us to watch one of Randle's worst individual performances less than 48 hours after his best. Randle had zero points and seven turnovers in the first half; UW crushed Cal.
Since I didn't witness any of Thursday's game, all I can offer are text messages I received from Mike Montgomery, who kept me informed with Roxy's radio call while I was at the women's game. They were exciting at the time, but if you want to know what the score was at each media timeout, it's probably easier to just check out the play by play at espn. I can offer plenty of insights about the UW game, but that game was terrible. So we'll discuss it only briefly before moving on to good games that I actually watched - the women beating up UW and outlasting WSU.
To get the bad out of the way, Saturday's game against UW really sucked. The only team that's beaten Cal that badly this year was Syracuse, in New York, against a Cal team without Theo. Syracuse is a national title contender; after losing at home to Oregon and getting swept in Arizona, UW isn't even a tournament team at this point.
UW played extremely aggressive defense, bodying and grabbing ball handlers, overplaying passing lanes, bumping shooters. Cal shot an incredible 50 free throws due to Washington's constant hassling, so you might guess that UW's defensive strategy backfired - not so! UW put Cal on the line, but their aggressive defense also created Cal 21 turnovers, leading to approximately 578 fast break points. UW went on a 26-4 run in the first half to put the game out of reach, during which seemingly every Cal possession ended in a turnover or low percentage shot. UW ran the floor to easy buckets.
UW can really run, too. They were impressive off Cal turnovers and misses, but more surprising was how quick they brought the ball up off a (rare) Cal field goal. Isaiah Thomas would receive the inbound pass only two steps before half court, immediately after a (rare) Cal field goal fell through the net. They were up in the offensive zone before Cal could get set, after a made basket! I've never seen a team get transition buckets after inbounding the ball - kudos, Huskies.
It would have been a closer game had Cal shot better than 64% on their 50 free throws, and had UW not hit a sizzling 83% of theirs. Cal had beaten UW 4 of the last 5 times, and free throws have been a major factor. Cal has been good at the line, and UW has been bad, though that is largely due to Brockles V. McBricksworth aka Jon Brockman, who graduated last spring and took his ~60% free throw percentage to the NBA.
In last year's triple overtime spectacular game of destiny, Cal shot 76% from the line to UW's 67%. If you apply those percentages to Saturday's game, the final score reads UW 80, Cal 75 - a hell of a lot closer.
I'm betting he missed this free throw.
It's tempting to use Jorge's absense as an excuse, but I don't think he makes that much of a difference in this game. Isaiah Thomas, UW's 5'10 guard, went for 20 points and harrassed Randle into a miserable game. I think Thomas is too quick for 6'3 Jorge, and Jorge is probably too small to take Quincy Pondexter, UW's 6'6 forward who dropped 25 on Theo. Personnel wise, I'm not sure Jorge helps as much in this game as he would have against a team like WSU, USC, or ucla.
The injuries to Jorge, Harper, and Markhuri hurt more in terms of fatigue/bumps and bruises leading up to the game. Who knows, with Jorge in the lineup against WSU maybe Cal doesn't blow most of a 28-8 lead, which means Randle doesn't have to play 40 minutes two days before the UW game. Maybe Randle doesn't get his knee stepped on in a scrum for the loose ball if he's sitting on the bench as Cal coasts to victory. It probably isn't enough to change the outcome, but if Randle is better than his zero point, seven turnover first half, it's a different game.
Cal goes down.
The good news is that Cal didn't "need" this game like UW did. Cal needs to return the favor and beat UW at home, which, despite the thrashing in Seattle, seems like a reasonable bet. UW is 0-4 outside of Seatle, and Cal generally shoots better than 64% at the line. What Cal really needs to do is hold home court against the Oregon schools this week, which the Huskies failed to do in Seattle three weeks ago. Cal was only 2-2 against the Oregon schools last year, thanks to an oh-fer against OSU, and the abomination against ucla makes these home games even more important. Sweep Bears, sweep.
One final note from the game: my friend Mike Montgomery sent me a text saying the "fat white ref is the new Dave Libby". When I protested "he can't be as bad as Libby", I received the following: "haha, right after you said that, he called his 2nd T of the game". Libby, in one of the greatest moments of the year 2009, retired last spring. Please Scott Thornley, please do not follow in his "insert myself into the game at all costs" footsteps.
Let's talk about chicks, man.
I saw both Thursday's game against UW and Saturday's game against WSU in spacious Haas Pavilion. There wasn't much of a crowd on Thursday, maybe 500-700 people, but parents brought their kids on Saturday. There were 1,200+ people and it was louder, if shriekier.
Thursday's game against UW started off ok, something like a 9-7 Cal lead, before Cal stopped scoring. UW was up by a dozen when senior Lauren Grief entered the game and settled the troops. She came up with a steal, hit a three, and Cal went into halftime only down by one.
Cal only has four healthy posts, all freshmen, so we've started two freshmen all year. Recently, Boyle has replaced senior guards Lauren Grief and Natasha Vital in the starting lineup with freshman Layshia Clarendon and Eliza Pierre, so Cal is starting four freshman. It's easy to see why Boyle is starting the freshman guards - they're good. They're more athletic and talented than the seniors. They are faster, they're better shooters. That said, they are freshman, and sometimes when there are four of them on the floor together, they go through stretches where nobody knows what the hell they are doing. Cal was scoreless for about 10 straight minutes in the first half on Thursday while letting UW get plenty of good looks and buckets. Suddenly Lauren Grief goes in, and even though she's not as fast and doesn't shoot as well as the freshmen, Cal starts moving the ball well on offense and stiffening up on defense. Things like spacing on offense and using your body on defense don't come as naturally as running the fast break - you need to learn them. Natural talent is great, but Cal needs to complement it with experience.
Of course, in the second half, it was the raw athleticism of freshman guard Eliza Pierre that turned a one point deficit into a Cal blowout victory. Cal used a variety of presses - full court, 3/4 court 1-2-2, a 1-2-1-1 - and UW simply did not have the depth or athleticism to break the press. They turned it over 18 times in the second half, 5 of them steals by Pierre. This led to a number of easy, open floor, fast break buckets, which soon gave Cal a double digit lead. It was the same formula that the Husky men used to beat our guys on Saturday. I have raved about Pierre in this space before, but to reiterate - she dominates games with her defense and speed, and is really entertaining to watch. On the fast break, she lets out little yelping whoops to let her teammates know where she is. Go see her.
She'll get a triple double with points, steals, and rebounds someday, you watch
WSU turned out to be a more difficult task for Cal than the Huskies. They had better athletes and shooters at the guard positions. They also seemed to be better coached - instead of futilely trying to dribble past the full court press, as the huskies did, WSU threw cross court over the trap and were able to get some easy baskets. Cal eventually abandoned their press and went to a half court man to man because the Cougs were so effective at breaking it.
The game was close throughout. Cal led 66-65 with 3 minutes left, and was in legitimate danger of losing to a team that is now 0-6 in conference play. With Cal's press failing to stop the opposition and generate easy, transition buckets, Cal needed some offense. They got it in the second half from Alexis Gray-Lawson, who was absolutely on fire. She scored 22 points in the half on a variety of step back jumpers, isolation jumpers, lay-ins off dribble penetration, and free throws. WSU could not stop her until they started doubling her off pick and rolls, simply ignoring the Cal big setting the screen.
Lexi's partner in Cougar destruction was Gennifer Brandon. Of the four freshman bigs, she is the thinnest and most athletic; instead of using her body to box out opponents, she's the freshman who's athletic enough to go up in traffic and bring down a rebound. She came up with a couple big offensive boards and put backs in the second half, and also scored a runner as the shot clock expired.
Both the men and the women did what they needed to do last week; the men got their split and the women held home court. With our without Jorge, the men need to sweep at Haas this week. Go bears, beat the teams that killed us in football.