Because I was attending the men's triple overtime loss to Arizona I completely missed the women's game against Arizona St. And because Fox Sports Arizona's stream archive isn't nearly as comprehensive as they claim I wasn't even able to watch the replay. But I'm pretty sure I can get the general sense of what happened. Why, I could just read what I wrote about last year's game in Tempe. Or last year's game in Berkeley. They all share a common theme, after all. The Bears have now lost three games to Arizona St. in the last two years in which they had leads of 10, 6 and 6 - all within four minutes to play. Each of those three games ended in defeat, and all three were/are incredibly damaging to tenuous NCAA tournament chances.
But there was one wrinkle that made this year different: A shocking, back-breaking buzzer beating 3! Usually those types of gut-punch plays come against USC. So thanks, cruel and indifferent God of College Sports, for changing things up just enough to keep things interesting. It's nice to know that despite finding bizarre and unusual ways to lose for 50 odd years, there's still enough scenarios left that the Bears can fall in totally unique ways twice in one three hour span on an otherwise lovely Saturday night.
Cal's performance against the Wildcats is a great example of a solid, unspectacular, workmanlike victory. The Bears jumped out to a lead, maintained that lead for 40 minutes, and ultimately left with a win that never really felt in doubt. After getting an 8-0 lead, Arizona would never get closer than 6 points, and the lead grew to as big as 16 before the Bears let off the gas with the game decided. Nice, drama free win.
Another positive sign was that the Bears got offensive contributions from 6 players. Every starter scored at least 9 points, and Afure Jemerigbe contributed 9 as well off the bench in another strong cameo appearance. Even better, all six shot 50% or better from the field.
It wasn't all peachy keen of course. The Bears suprisingly struggled at times on the glass and only outrebounded the Cats by one. Again the Bears turned the ball over too often, 18 times in total, against Arizona's pressure. Against a better team (foreshadowing alert!!!) those stats might result in a loss. Luckily Cal's defense held Arizona below 40% from the field. Arizona was particularly futile from behind the arc, which really prevented any potential comebacks.
Player of the game: Lindsay Sherbert filled the stat sheet in a variety of ways - 14 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 steals. But she's here for not filling the stat sheet in a negative way - just one turnover in 33 minutes. For whatever reason - random chance, freshman jitters, etc., Lindsay hasn't performed as well on the road as she has at Haas. Her games in Oregon and against Arizona are important steps forward in that regard.
Arizona St. 45, Cal 44
This game was remarkably even. Both teams had 21 turnovers. Cal won the rebounding battle by 3. ASU committed one more foul than the Bears. So ultimately this game was decided by little things, like free throw shooting and a few random 3's. As it happened, those few random 3's all came at the end of the game as the Sun Devils hit 3 straight to steal away the win.
Conflicting reports have described the defense as 'stifling' and the offense as 'bad.' I'm sure both descriptions are apt - it takes that type of confluence for two solid major conference teams to both finish below 50 points for an entire game.
And unfortunately, that's all I can really say about the specific events of this game. What I can discuss is what this game means for the future. And that future is that it's now going to be much more difficult for the Bears to make the NCAA tournament. Three more opportunities remain for the Bears to notch 'resume' wins. One of those games is against Stanford, and the other two are on the road in L.A. Fair or unfair, nobody is going to be impressed with wins over Washington, Washington St., Oregon, or Oregon St. There's no margin for error against teams Cal is supposed to beat, and only one or two realistic chances to earn impressive wins.
It's hard not to feel disappointed because the Bears are one circus shot away from a solid 7-4 conference record and a firm grip on 3rd place. Instead we're now tied with ASU and just a half game ahead of USC. Having said that, I predicted a 3-1 run through the four game road trip, so I'm trying really hard to appreciate that the Bears have at least proven that they can win on the road. This season isn't over yet.
It's revenge week as the Bears look to erase the memories of their lost Washington weekend at home against the Huskies and Cougars. Washington will be looking to bounce back from a home loss to the previously winless-in-the-Pac-10-Oregon-State by winning their 2nd Pac-10 road game.
Washington St. is proving that perhaps their win over the Bears wasn't such a fluke, recording their first home sweep in a decade over the Oregon schools. They've also beaten ASU in Tempe, so this isn't going to be an easy game by any stretch.
Win them both and the Bears set themselves up for a huge L.A. road trip in which they'll be given an opportunity to revive their NCAA chances. Lose even one game at home this week and I can't imagine the season ending in anything other than a chance to defend their WNIT crown.