Joanne Boyle is in her 6th year as the head coach of Cal women’s basketball, and in that time the Bears have gone a combined 18-3 against Washington and Washington St. So despite having to go on the road, expectations were high considering the combined struggles of both schools from the northwest. I had naively started thinking about how exciting this weekend’s home games against USC and UCLA would be if each team entered with a conference record of 4-1 or better. Oops.
This weekend’s sweep killed any positive feelings from the sweep of Arizona and Arizona St. and plunged the program back into self-reflection and soul searching. This is Coach Boyle's take:
From going from the Arizona weekend to this weekend and what's changed. I don't know. I've said this all year - we're not a team that's competing. We're not working hard, we don't play together. I'm uncertain of what's going on. I'm there to help them.
And this is from DeNesha Stallworth:
When adversity hits us, we just don't know how to act. I don't know if it comes with youth or growth or I don't know what it is.
Check out Q's game report for more player quotes and a great eye-witness breakdown. It’s a strange situation when everybody on the team agrees with the diagnosis but still can’t fix the problem. Cal’s struggles on the road are particularly perplexing. The Bears have only one home loss to Stanford and have beaten two teams in the RPI top 25 at Haas. But they are just 1-4 on the road with losses to three teams outside the RPI top 100.
I started thinking back to what was different last year and the answer was pretty obvious. Alexis Gray-Lawson saved the Bears on the road. When Cal was struggling to put away Washington in Seattle last year, she poured in 35 points to force overtime and then seal the game. When Cal couldn’t break down Oregon St. in Corvallis she went for 47 points in 50 minutes on the court. In all but two Pac-10 road games, AGL was the leading scorer for the Bears.
I don’t want to attribute too much to the mystique of ‘veteran leadership,’ but I think I’ve been guilty of not acknowledging the loss of AGL. Every team game planned to slow her down last year, and that freed up space for everybody else. Now that she’s gone to Europe it doesn’t feel like the Bears have decided what they want to be offensively. Sometimes DeNesha will take over, and other times Layshia will get hot, but there’s nothing consistent – nobody you can count on for 15 points night after night, and nobody who you expect to blow up for 25 or 30 points.
The question is: Should these struggles be a surprise? The best comparison might be the 2005-06 season, when Cal had a young but talented team led by a caste of sophomores in Ashley Walker and Devanei Hampton, and with one of their players (AGL) sidelined with a season ending injury. That year Cal managed to go 10-6 in the Pac-10 and earned an 8 seed in the NCAA tournament. Like the 2010-11 Bears, they weren’t the greatest shooting team and really struggled from behind the arc, but they played consistent, rugged defense and rebounded very well.
It’s that consistent defensive intensity and effort that seems to be lacking right now. No matter how well Washington St. played this weekend, the Bears shouldn’t have allowed them to shoot 50% from the field. No matter how big an effort Washington made on the boards, Cal should not be getting outrebounded.
Still, I’m going to say that we shouldn’t be surprised by these struggles. Cal essentially lost their best scorer and their best rebounder from a year ago. That’s got to have some type of impact. Why those impacts seem to manifest themselves mostly on the road is beyond me, but it appears to be a fact of life.
The good news is that the season is far from over. Last year the season looked rather bleak after an 0-3 start left the Bears floundering at 6-8. They ended the season 18-5 as everything suddenly seemed to click. Returning to Haas to face a USC team that they seem to match up well with could be just what they need, and UCLA will represent a major chance to make a statement.
I absolutely believe this group has the talent, and that it will eventually be put together to create a fearsome team. Hopefully it happens now rather than next year.