We all love the underdog. Rudy. Rocky. Cinderella. Athletes "graduating" from Stanfurd. But sadly enough, reality is often cold, harsh, and unforgiving. Real-life Rudy blows out his ACL. Rocky ends up with brain damage. Cinderella gets sold to the salt mines. And the 'furd jocks without their easy class list have to do their mouth-breathing as Walmart greeters. But when it's your dog in the fight, you're willing to suspend reality and hope beyond hope to beat the odds.
We knew that our Bears had the odds stacked almost impossibly against them. On the road, after a short rest, battling injuries and illness, shorthanded...those would have been reasons enough to be a little concerned. But squaring off an angry Colorado team featuring senior scorers and an NBA-lottery talent who also happens to be 15-2 at home...Well, now it's beginning to look like our best strategy would be to bleed on them. But sometimes, it's not about the size of the Bear in the fight...or is it? Sigh. There's a good reason that they call them "favorites," after all. Sometimes a loss reveals as much or more character than a win. Say what you will, but these Bears didn't look for excuses and weren't feeling sorry for themselves.
Cal started in zone and roared out to a 5-0 lead...only to have Burks roll in a 3 and then go over the back with a putback. Solo got a dunk, and Burks answered with another deep jumper. Cal 7, Burks 7. Whoa. After 5 minutes, you could tell that he was on a whole different level...and we had no one who can match his athleticism. Then, Cal's offense stalled and the Buffs took advantage of turnovers and an 8-0 advantage on the offensive boards to build a 9-pt lead. By over-playing the post and gambling in the passing lanes, they were able to use their quickness to disrupt our offense. The Bears looked like they were having trouble matching Colorado's energy. Cue Jorge. He scored five consecutive points with a layup and one plus a corner jumper to keep us close. The Buffs went on another mini-run only to be answered by 3's from Smith, Crabbe, and Jorge. But whenever the Bears started to get it close, we simply had no answer for Alec Burks and were continually abused when they crashed the offensive glass. Honestly, it's a minor miracle that the score was only 37-34 at the half. It felt like we should have been down by a lot more.
The Good: The guys certainly didn't come out flat. The effort was there even if the results were uneven and the legs were heavy. Jorge wouldn't let us get buried early. Solo stepped up with some nice blocks on defense. A steady diet of 3-balls, especially from Crabbe and Gut, kept us in it.
The Bad: Uncharacteristic turnovers on offense really hurt. The defensive intensity waxed and waned...mostly waned. We gave up a lot of open shots and were lucky that they didn't shoot a higher percentage. Our defensive strategy almost seemed to be, "let's trick them into relying on open 3's!" We had trouble running our offense against their athleticism and really struggled to work the ball inside.
The Ugly: The defensive rebounding was really an issue. It wasn't just having their guys out-jump us, we were spending too much time standing around and letting them out-hustle us, too.
Magic IVs. Cattleprods. Pixy dust. I don't really care how Monty does what he does - I won't turn him in. I was curious to see what adjustments Monty would come up with. I'm sure that he was just as concerned as the rest of us that we were overly reliant on 3-point shooting. With Colorado's bigs over-playing the post and their wings flashing in the passing lanes, I wondered if we'd switch up our sets and look for more backdoor cuts. Unfortunately, it was our defense and not our offense that ended up rolling the dice...and in typical Cal fashion, it came up snake-eyes. The Buffs blew open the game in less than two minutes with a flurry of 3's that extended their lead to 9 points. The Bears tried to rally behind tough plays from Kamp and Smith, but the Buffs continued to rain 3's, force turnovers, and crash the offensive glass. With the help of a somewhat ludicrous intentional foul call on Emerson Murray, the lead grew to 13. And when Jorge went down with a fluke leg injury, it really started to look grim. It was. The onslaught of open 3's continued and the lead swelled to 17. But then, the guns went silent - Colorado went cold from deep, perhaps confused by our unorthodox strategy of leaving them WIDE OPEN over and over again. At the other end, the Kamp and Murray went on a scoring spre and managed to cut the lead to 8 with 9 minutes to go. Seriously? Dare we hope? Well, no. Murray fouled out. And our depth and injury issues magnified by the altitude finally caught up with us. It got ugly late, but the final score is deceptive. The Bears gave this one a good run.
The Good: Breakout minutes from Bak Bak and Emerson Murray. Nice to see the young guys step up. Despite being overmatched, the Bears refused the quit. This should have been a blowout early instead of late.
The Bad: We continued to be perimeter-dependent on offense and turnover prone. I'm sure we would have given up more offensive boards...except they kept hitting their shots or getting to the foul line. With their D able to key on Crabbe, he really struggled to get any decent looks.
The Ugly: We continued to exhibit a "we double-dog-dare-you-to-hit-that-open-shot" defense. It would probably be best if we don't have to play a lineup featuring 3 walk-ons and a 3rd stringer any time in the near future.
Final Thoughts: Hold your heads up, Bears. We appreciate the effort and we enjoyed watching you grow as a team this year. Hat's off to Monty for an absolutely amazing coaching job. Let's not forget to give a shout-out to MSF for a great senior year. It's a shame that he had to spend his last two games as a spectator. Best wishes and a get well soon to Jorge. I'm more than a little worried about his knee/leg - I thought that he'd tell the coaching staff to cut him, patch things up w/ duct tape, and try to charge back on the court. And young fellas, remember the feeling of getting taunted by a hostile Colorado crowd. Remember the sick feeling of having your season ended - and go to work. We're with you. We believe in you. And we can't wait to see you next year. Thanks for a great season. Go Bears!