CBKWitness - Randle makes good

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Friday January 8, 2010 11:27 Comment From Knox Harrington: Can you please roll ucla at Pauley? I hate them.

Jerome Randle: UCLA made me mad. I know we should have won that game. I'm more upset that I wasn't 100 percent and I couldn't be myself. From this point on, the entire Pac-10 is just going to get my best.
I'm not going to suggest that my comment a month ago has been motivating Randle this entire time...but clearly, it has.  I posed this challenge to Randle a few days after ucla's dumb luck win at Haas.  Cal was favored by 14 points or so, which seemed really high at the time.  Cal not only failed to beat the double digit spread - they failed to beat the bruins at all.  Then we found out a few days later that Randle was sick during the game (thanks to some fine investigative journalism by yours truly).  How would have the game played out had Randle been healthy?  Well, after Saturday's game, now we know.  It turns out I was wrong (no way!) and the odds-makers were right, they just didn't know Randle was going to be throwing up during the game.

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via image57.webshots.com

TOUGHNESS

Monty has been preaching, since approximately day one, that this team needs toughness.  He said Cal needed to get tough in the off-season, after our season ending loss to Maryland in the NCAA tournament.  He has said so this year, as Cal lost, despite holding late leads, to ucla at home and to Arizona on the road. 

After leading USC by 13 points in the first half last Thursday, Cal needed some toughness and focus to maintain their execution and their comfortable lead.  Instead, USC went on a 25-0 run (25-0!!) spanning the half and more than 10 minutes.  USC is more than capable of making life tough for the Cal offense with their long, athletic players, but giving up 25 consecutive points is simply pathetic.  USC is not a good offensive team, which makes their huge run even more frustrating.  Sure, they cranked up their defense and flustered Cal's offense, but Cal has to tighten their defense in response.
After clawing back into the game, Theo Robertson had a chance to tie the score with 10 seconds left...and missed the first of two free throws.  Cal was picked to challenge for the conference title largely because of their experience.  We may not have the most athletically talented roster, but we should, in theory, make up for that with poise and composure that comes from having four senior starters.  Giving up 25 consecutive points and then having your 80%+ free throw shooter miss with a chance to tie (while USC's 70% guy hits 4-4) does not indicate poise or composure. 

Monty could not believe what had happened.  He rambled during the post game interview with Roxy, a muted, shell-shocked stream of consciousness that touched on defense, rebounding, and yes, toughness.  He was at a loss, and did not sound confident about things changing in the upcoming games.

After the game, Jerome Randle said "I'm just disappointed in our team effort.  I think we really need to dig down deep and do some self-evaluation checks and see if we really want this. By the way we're playing right now, it doesn't look like we want it.  (We) just need to come together and figure something out before it slips away."  Unlike after past losses, there's wasn't much of the "we didn't play hard but we will next time" sentiment.  Randle, Monty, and the rest of the team seemed to recognize that there was something more systemic at play, that the 25-0 run and resulting loss was not an aberration but part of an increasingly frustrating pattern.  It did not leave one optimistic for Saturday's game against Pauley.  Cal has not exactly had the best of luck versus the bruins lately (the over the backboard cheat, the seven point play last year, and Roll's lucky jumper, to name a few excruciating incidents), and now Cal was set to play ucla with a lot of pressure and without much confidence.

A third of the way into the second half with Cal up 4, Markhuri Sanders-Frison delivered the toughness the Bears had been so sorely lacking.  Ucla was on a 10-2 run fueled by transition buckets.  Cal only had one turnover during this stretch but missed three three-pointers; missed three pointers turn into long rebounds, and the bruins retrieved the boards and quickly passed up the floor for easy lay-ins.  On this particular play, bruin whipping boy Jerime Anderson stole the ball from Theo Robertson, leading to a 2 on 1 break.  Jerome Randle was the 1 for Cal, and he did his job by forcing a pass to the second bruin, bruin whipping boy (there are like 5 of them) Malcolm Lee.  As Lee went up for a seemingly uncontested lay-in, Markhuri Sanders-Frison came out of nowhere and hammered Lee.  It was a good, clean, but very hard foul, and Markhuri probably got the worst of it as he landed awkwardly after falling on a camera man (I'd love to have floor seats at a Cal game, but having 270 Sanders-Frison fall on you would not be pleasant).

The lesson from Markhuri, and Cal, was clear: we're not letting you have any more easy buckets.  (Ok, James Keefe had a dunk a few moments later, but that's it.)  Lee made only one of two free throws to cut the large, dicked Bear's lead to three, but Cal scored on the next possession and went on a 22-8 run.  Instead of blowing or nearly blowing their second half, double digit lead in late in the game, Cal ran the bruins off their own floor, with Randle feeding Christopher for an alley-oop as the exclamation point.  In contrast, Cal attempted to feed Christopher an alley-oop at least three times during the second half of the usc game, and failed every time.

It was fitting that Cal made this statement against ucla, a program under Howland that prides itself on tough, hard-nosed basketball (and moving screens and cheap body bumps on shooters that don't get called, but that's another story).  It was also fitting that Markhuri Sanders-Frison was the man to bring the physical play, because that's exactly why he was recruited.  Lacking any real muscle inside with Harper Kamp on the shelf, Taylor Harrison retired, and Jordan Wilkes off to the real world (ok, that last one doesn't really fit), Markhuri came to Berkeley to provide defense, rebounding, and a physical presence on the interior.  Back spasms have severely limited his playing time during conference play, but he had his best game of the year against ucla: 25 minutes, 6 points, 6 rebounds, and the game changing foul.  Granted, ucla does not have a good front line, but few teams in the Pac-10 do.  If Markhuri can provide that stat line and that physical play for the rest of the season, Cal will be in much better shape.

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The bigger issue is whether or not the team will respond for the rest of the season.  Cal really clamped down on defense after spotting ucla a 14 point first half lead, but the defensive effort and intensity have been extremely inconsistent for the Bears throughout the year.  Markhuri is supposed to bang around down low in the half court set, but I think it says as a lot about the rest of the team when (slightly doughy, not in game shape due to injury) Sanders-Frison is the guy getting back on transition defense and not our wings or guards.  Against ucla, Cal showed that they can be physical and they can play with a lead - the question is,  will they do it for the rest of the season?  If they do, and if they play defense which allows them to get out in transition, the Bears will be pretty good.

I feel that Markhuri's foul on Malcolm Lee was the defining moment in the game, but it would not have mattered without the 29-8 Cal run over the last 12 minutes of the first half.  As much as I love Jorge and hate to admit this, the game turned when he was removed and Omondi Amoke came in.  Jorge actually started the game and played the point, in an effort to free up Randle off the ball for some open outside shots against ucla's 2-3 zone.  Jorge came up with two nice hustle plays/steals early, but he turned the ball over a couple times and twice was easily beaten by Malcolm Lee dribble drives.  The Jorge of old (and hopefully the future) would do a much better job of staying in front of his man, but with the knee injury Jorge just doesn't have much lateral quickness.  Right now he's heart, grit, and beautiful hair atop a gimpy knee.

Amoke and Sanders-Frison (subbing for Boykin) entered the game and started the bear comeback by grabbing rebounds.  They had seven boards between the two of them over the twelve minute span, creating second chances for Cal on offense and denying second chances for the bruins on defense.  Ucla beat up Cal on the boards to start the game (they had offensive rebounds on their first two possessions) but Cal out-rebounded the bruins for the game, 28-22.

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Jeff Farudo from the CoCo times put it nicely: "The Bruins’ other freshman forward, Modesto native Reeves Nelson, has an effective bullish quality to his game, but we wonder how long Pac-10 refs are going to allow him to stick his head into a defender’s chest to create space."  Twice in the second half Nelson simply ran into a stationary Cal player as he was shooting and drew a foul.  The Cal defenders had position and were simply standing there with their arms vertical - foul.  Ucla getting preferential treatment from the refs: not at all new.  Cal beating ucla by double digits despite the officiating: new and refreshing!

I was much more irritated by a terrible charging call against Jorge.  At the Cal Alumni chalk talk before the ucla home game, Jay John said that a study of blocking/charging fouls revealed that 70% had been called incorrectly.  I used the most cutting edge photo altering software available to demonstrate why this particular call belongs in the 70% category.

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Jorge was driving with the ball to the rim (along the path of the blue arrow) when he collided with Nikola Dragovic, pictured here as the aqua line.  The aqua line represents Dragovic's shoulders; I have included a rat tail and orange arrow to indicate which direction he was facing.  Dragovic was sliding to his right, (as shown by the dashed purple arrow) when he blocked Jorge.  When two players collide, it is only (correctly) called a charge when the defender is not moving forward/backward or side to side, but despite the fact that Dragovic was clearly sliding right when he ran into Jorge, Jorge was called for the charge.  Why?  Because the referee who called the foul is a moron.  More subtly, it's because he does not understand the concepts of redundancy or positioning.

The referee who made the call is pictured above as the red "X" on the three point line.  From his vantage point, he can easily see if Dragovic moves forward or backward.  What he cannot easily tell, since Dragovic's shoulders are parallel to his line of sight, is whether Dragovic slides left or right.  For a very exaggerated demonstration of this, hold up a piece of paper as if you were reading it.  Now rotate it 90 degrees, so you're looking at the side of the paper.  It's easy to see the paper move front and back in front of you, but it's much harder to detect its motion when you move it towards you or away from you.

One of the other refs was standing on the baseline, indicated by the green X.  This block/charge call is his to make; he can easily see Dragovic sliding right to intercept Jorge.  Does he call a charge?  Nope!  The red ref does, because he apparently did not take 10th grade physics.

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Not the referee in question, but you get the idea

Cal's in-bounding plays, especially from the baseline, are a mess.  We turned it over at least twice, with several near misses.  This follows many other turnovers and more near misses from previous games.

On a related note, Cal was sloppy with the ball late in the game, leading to a couple turnovers.  We saw this in the last minute of the ASU game and the last five minutes of the OSU game.  Randle is the primary guilty party, as he can become a little out of control, and his lack of height makes it difficult for him to see over the traps.  This carelessness has not cost us a game yet, but the OSU game in particular was far too close for comfort.

On a happier note, Cal ran their final possession offense to perfection in the first half.  Cal held the ball near half court for the last shot, and with only 4 seconds left Theo dished to Boykin inside for an easy lay-in.  It was a high quality shot and did not leave enough time on the clock for the bruins to create a shot of their own.  At the end of the first half against usc, Cal turned it over and gave the trojans a fast break bucket.  Both times Cal had a 5 point lead and was in position to take the last shot.  Cal went to the locker room with a 3 point lead against usc and a 7 point lead against the bruins.  That four point swing was crucial in the usc game, as Cal went on to lose by three.

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After watching the game at Raleigh's Manuel's Taproom, our group wandered over to Haas to catch the second half of the Cal-ucla women's game.  I was buzzed (80% due to Cal beating ucla, 20% due to beer), so I was pretty confused when we arrived at Haas.  The scoreboard read 20-18 when we sat down...but the game was supposed to be in the second half by then.  It was the second half, and six minutes into the second half at that.  We had apparently missed a half of epic futility, 14-8 ucla after 20 minutes.

I hate giving ucla props for anything (to be fair, they very rarely deserve any commendation), but their defense is almost exactly what I would employ if I were a women's college bball coach.  They use a 3/4 court trapping press, which creates turnovers and easy transition buckets, vital for teams that struggle to score in the half court (and 14 points in one half is proof that the bruins do struggle to score).  Because they use this 3/4 court trap instead of a full court man to man, the bruins are able to retreat into their half court zone defense once their opponent gets the ball up the court.  They use a 2-3 zone, which is perfect for women's college hoops because its main weakness (giving up open outside shots) is one that most teams cannot exploit.  Ucla held Cal to 32 points for the entire game - Alexis Gray-Lawson scored more than that by herself at OSU a few weeks ago.

One of the talking heads mentioned Joe Shipp during the men's broadcast, so I was inspired to create this:

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* Shipp Quality determined by basketball ability, hottness, and intelligence as indicated by academic prestige of selected university

Do what Ragnarok says and fill up Haas.  The first day of the rest of the season is tomorrow, 6PM against UW.  They smoked us (with an injured Randle and no Jorge) up in Seattle earlier this year but the Huskies have not won a game outside of Seattle this season.  Show up, shout your ass off and make sure the Huskies remain winless on the road.  Go Bears, beat the Huskies!

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