Amidst the excitement of Cal’s six game winning streak, there’s one thing we haven’t really started talking about: The Bears are winning close games again.
To start the season, Cal was either woefully unlucky or particularly un-clutch, depending on your perspective. In Cal’s nine non-conference wins the average margin of victory was 21 points, and no team was closer than 9 points. In Cal’s three non-conference losses and the UCLA defeat, the average margin of defeat was just under 3. Basically, Cal’s level of performance through the first 15 games led to 11 sure wins, 1 sure loss (USC) and 4 tossups . . . and Cal lost every single toss up game.
Since blowout out Oregon, Cal has faced different levels of adversity in three games, and has come up with the plays to win all three. Against Colorado, Cal faced a 12 point deficit with 12 minutes left. Against Utah, Cal saw a 13 point lead with 5:15 to play dwindle down to 2 with 2:28 left. And against Washington St., Cal was down 3 points inside the final 3 minutes.
Last year those were the types of games that Cal lost. They failed against Colorado and Washington St. in eerily similar scenarios last year. Winning the close games in conference now doesn’t erase the sting of close losses to Rutgers, Texas and Ohio St., but it is necessary if Cal wants to feel secure come Selection Sunday.
Of course, if Cal really wants to get excited about seeing a low seed come March, the can just get a win or two over Stanford. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Cal at Colorado Highlights
True, this game happened a week ago. But we couldn't watch it and the highlight video is objectively awesome. So watch it now and enjoy. Back to your regularly scheduled Week In Review
Cal 71, Washington 47
Like last week, Cal had a game televised, and so I've already offered my thoughts on Cal's win over WSU. For now let's focus on the Washington game.
In some ways this game was Cal’s most dominant performance of the year against solid competition. The Bears shot better than 50% from the field, and that alone would have been enough to win considering the defensive effort that completely shut down the Huskies. But Cal did well from the free throw line and on the boards and the result was a 24 point blowout.
The main success Cal had was stopping Regina Rogers, the highest percentage shooter in college basketball before she ran into the Bears. There was a clear gameplan to double and even triple team Rogers:
So we thought that our wings needed to discourage passes to her, we wanted limited touches. And against Regina, limiting touches was using our wings to sag a little bit and then recover to their player.
I don’t know how successful Cal was in preventing entry passes to Rogers – she managed to get off 15 shots – but when Rogers did get the ball she was frequently surrounded by her primary defender, a wing and/or the other post player. The result was an uncharacteristic 5-15 shooting night, and ultimately nobody else was able to step up and score for Washington.
Erika Johnson Transfers
This news actually came out a few weeks ago, but I failed to mention it in my eagerness to discuss Cal’s win streak. I don’t think a whole ton of information has come out regarding her decision, but she has chosen North Carolina as her transfer destination, and will likely become eligible to play in the spring semester next year.
Knowing exactly nothing about her specific motivations, this isn’t a shocker. If you’re the prep player of the year in Washington it’s got to be disappointing to see end-of-the-bench minutes. With Layshia Clarendon taking the vast majority of the minutes at one off-guard spot and Lindsay Sherbert, Afure Jemerigbe and Mikayla Lyles splitting time at the other, Erika faced perhaps a multi-year wait for consistent playing time.
It’s never a good thing to lose a talented player, but this does allow for more class balance. With Johnson, Cal had (by eligibility) three juniors, four sophomores and four freshmen. Now there are just four freshmen. Women’s basketball teams are allowed 15 scholarship, so if Coach Gottlieb decides to give out all four available scholarships this year Cal will be ideally balanced. She may decide not to do so (15 scholarships is a large number to have when only 9 or 10 players get regular playing time) but either way Cal is in a pretty stable position. That’s something that should be appreciated considering the amount of turmoil in the program over the past few years.
CGB wishes Erika good luck in finding what she’s looking for in North Carolina.
We’ll have plenty of content on Stanford coming up as Saturday afternoon draws closer. I’m getting increasingly excited for the game – Cal has twice had the opportunity to measure themselves against top 10 opposition, and in each case they were right there at the end. The Bears are underdogs, but I think there are reasons for optimism. Go Bears!