Sage Indendi hit a three, and again the Bears faced an early double digit deficit after sleep-walking through the first ten minutes of the game. Unless things changed quickly it was clear Cal was facing a regular season ending eight game losing streak. Cal was missing layups, runners, free throws, three pointers, and any other variety of shot you could think of. Somebody needed to step up and provide some offense.
That player was a senior with no starts in her entire career until Senior Day. When it was announced that Rachelle Federico was starting my initial reaction was that it was an honor for the team captain in her final game at Haas. But Rama N'Diaye wasn't starting either, casting doubt on my assumption. Coach Boyle confirmed that Mooch started for strategic reasons after the game:
We haven't been getting off to good starts offensively, not that we did tonight, but the one who was scoring for us was Mooch. That was helpful. It wasn't a senior thing or anything like that. We just needed a new breath, a new something . . . I thought she deserved it and I thought she did a great job.
So on senior day, with Coach Boyle anticipating offensive problems from the opening tip, Mooch got the start. And Boyle’s gambit ending up working. Her two corner threes kept Cal close when all looked lost, and it felt like she sparked the rest of her teammates to break out of a six game slumber. Maybe hitting a few outside shots just forced Oregon State’s defense to stretch a little to give DeNesha Stallworth that extra bit of space needed to finally get in rhythm, and give Layshia Clarendon a little more space to drive the lane for her nifty pull up runners. In any case, Federico’s early points saved the game.
Federico has always had a reputation as a ‘zone-buster,’ the type of player who gets playing time against a team like Arizona or Oregon State that runs a 2-3 zone. Her ability to hit corner threes is what typically got her playing time last year when Cal didn’t have a credible outside threat besides Alexis Gray-Lawson. But this year she’s been used as more of an all-purpose offensive spark-plug, entering the game when Cal’s starters are unable to get things done on offense. Unfortunately, Cal’s scoring troubles have been too pronounced for one player to possibly compensate for.
In celebrating victory and praising Federico’s ‘Disney moment’ I don’t want to ignore Cal’s shortcomings, which were once again very much on display against a struggling Oregon State team. But after a soul-crushing losing streak littered with defeats by any means you could imagine, sometimes you just need to appreciate a win – no matter how it comes. We have all off-season to contemplate why Cal suddenly lost their ability to score. For now I’m content to appreciate a fine performance from a very deserving senior concluding her Cal career.
Cal vs. Oregon
Cal’s offensive execution against Oregon was a single-game representation of everything that has gone wrong in the 2nd half of the Pac-10 schedule. Cal has nearly scored at will against Oregon in four previous matchups against Paul Westhead, averaging nearly 80 points per contest. That the Bears managed just 46 points is probably the single most shocking stat of the season. The rest of the numbers are equally amazing: 17-80 for a field goal percentage of 21%, including an absolutely epic 1-26 performance from behind the arc. Every shot looked rushed, off-balance, wild, or all three.
I’m usually one to avoid psychological explanations for anything in sports, for the simple reason that it’s utterly improvable and ultimately speculative to an extreme degree. But I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching a group of players that had totally lost confidence in their own offensive abilities. Usually I’d like to give some credit to the opposition’s defense, but Oregon is hardly known for their ability to stop their opponents from scoring. In my book Thursday’s game was even worse than last year’s 32 point performance against UCLA.
The regular season ends with the toughest game of the year, and I’d guess that only the most blindingly optimistic among us carry any kind of hope against a Stanford team has won 20 straight games by double digits. Regardless of the result, Cal will almost certainly face either Washington or Washington St. in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament. Should they somehow solve their Washington hex they likely would face 3rd seed Arizona St. So there should be revenge opportunities aplenty at the Galen Center, as the Bears try to give us reasons for optimism in 2012.