Maybe it's just bad timing. For a year and a half Faisal Aden hasn't been a productive player for Washington State. He basically took jump shots and never drew fouls. Cougar fans were openly questioning why Ken Bone gives him so many minutes. Which is why I blame them for what happened.
Clearly Faisal Aden heard the criticism and decided the only way to get WSU fans on his side was to constantly attack the basket, take good shots, and draw fouls. After dropping 33 against Stanford Aden scored 24 against the Bears, mostly on easy layups and free throws. He got into the paint whenever he wanted against every defender Cal threw at him.
And there were a few. Washington St. already has a highlight video, and if you watch it you'll see Aden up against Jorge Gutierrez, Justin Cobbs and Emerson Murray, amongst others. Before the game we worried that Cal would look sluggish . . . watching the highlight video, I can't recall seeing the Bears look so slow to react this year. Aden goes around guys like they aren't even there. The stats are just as painful as the film. Washington St. had an eFG% of 61.2 and shot 22 free throws. You won't win many game when opponents score like that, especially on the road.
It certainly wasn't offense that lost the game for the Bears. Cal's starters all had reasonably solid offensive performances. A solid shooting night and generally excellent ball control kept Cal right there with the Cougar offense. I suppose you could even argue that Cal got a little unlucky making just 6 of 20 three pointers, most of which were open (assuming Roxy wasn't lying to me while I listened to the 2nd half on the radio). Then again, weary legs on defense likely means weary legs on jump shots.
Of course, part of the reason the legs might've been weary is because of the minutes the starters played on the road trip. Gutierrez, Cobbs, Allen Crabbe and Harper Kamp all played 34 minutes or more against both Washington and Washington State. Is that a good idea?
Pro: Due to a series of blowouts, Cal didn't have to play their starters a ton of minutes in the non-conference schedule, so they should be rested for the conference schedule.
Con: I don't think 5 or 10 minutes extra in non-conference games means much. The players are going to be tired because of trekking across the frozen tundra of eastern Washington.
Pro: A conference title is on the line and every game is a key game. You play your best players and let the chips fall where they may.
Con: Our best players need to be at their best, and they won't be at their best if they play 37 minutes every night.
Pro: Come on, the bench is clearly thin. With Brandon Smith recovering from injury and Richard Solomon suspended, what else are you going to do?
I don't really know where I fall on the debate. The good news is that Cal only has three more road trips, and one of those is a single game in Palo Alto, so that barely counts. My hope? That Cal blows out Utah and nobody has to play more than 25 or 30 minutes against Utah, allowing everybody to stay fresh for Colorado. And we can always get up for games against USC and UCLA, right? Those Bruins always bring out our best.
In 8 days the Bears may very well be back in first place alone in the conference. Beat Stanford and this game will disappear quickly from the memory.