Sorry, all you women's basketball fans - I've been on vacation and have generally been behind on everything, so you're getting a Week In Review and a gamethead all in one. Towards the end of the post there's a vague sort of preview of the two games this week, but here's the bottom line: WIN
I suppose if I’m going to essentially miss a week of games due to vacations and holidays, I’m better off missing two inexplicable losses, but now I’m stuck trying to understand and explain what happened without having seen a minute of game action.
True, both games were on the road, but Cal had already played a better team in a tougher environment, losing to top-15 Rutgers by just 3. USC and UCLA, while solid, are not nearly as good as Rutgers, even when fully healthy.
And healthy they are most certainly not. USC was without Jackie Gemelos and UCLA was missing Jasmine Dixon and Atonye Nyingifa, amongst others. True, Cal was missing Eliza Pierre against USC after she suffered a concussion against UCLA, but that wasn’t reason enough for Cal to fall by twenty.
It’s easy enough to identify the proximate cause of Cal’s losses:
vs. UCLA: 22-74, 2-10, 9-17 (29.7%, 20%, 52.9%)
vs. USC: 19-71, 3-11, 13-22 (26.7%, 27.3%, 59%)
Eegads. For one entire weekend, Cal forgot how to shoot. Seeing low percentages on three pointers and free throws isn’t exactly surprising, but Cal had been excellent all year at getting good looks inside and making those shots. If Cal shoots at all close to their season average from inside the arc they beat UCLA by 10 or 15 and they play USC close to the buzzer. Why didn’t it happen that way? What’s the ultimate cause?
Hell if I know. In her postgame comments after the USC game, Lindsay Gottlieb referenced the same strategy that most teams will use against the Bears: "USC sagged in the paint. They made it real crowded. They were very physical inside with our posts." I’m sure that’s nothing that the coaches and players were unprepared for, because it’s what just about every team will try to do to stop Brandon, Caldwell, et. al. from going wild inside. And usually Cal can get around teams that pack the paint. But not last week.
The stats are rather shocking. Against UCLA, every single player on the roster shot 40% or lower from the field. Against USC, Mikayla Lyles hit her only shot, and Lindsay Sherbert went 4-8. Everybody else individually shot 33% or worse. It was a total and complete team-wide failure to make shots.
If I were an unbiased fan who started watching Cal this season with no prior history, I might lean strongly towards dismissing the weekend as a statistical fluke – teams with an eFG% of ~45% (going into the weekend) against excellent competition don’t suddenly shoot just an 3FG% of 30% without a solid heaping of bad luck.
Except I did watch last year. I did see the Bears inexplicably collapse on the road against Washington, Washington St. and UCLA (amongst others). This isn’t unprecedented weirdness.
Of course, this is a different team, with an entirely new head coach, new assistants, and four significant contributing players who weren’t on the court last year. Returners and newcomers alike have the chance to prove that these two games weren’t representative of their true talent. They’ll have to be significantly better than what they showed in L.A. to prove it.
It shouldn’t be a major challenge to get back on track, because upcoming is probably the easiest week of conference games this year. Oregon State and Oregon are coming to Haas, and Cal should win both games comfortably. Oregon has gone just 9-5 against a weak schedule and got blown out by Washington St. at home to open conference play. Oregon St. has been better but still lost by 20 at home to a St. Mary’s squad that Cal handled on the road. If Cal loses either of these two games, major alarm bells go off.
The bad news is that Cal can’t really prove much this weekend either. In fact, that chance won’t really come until a three game road trip through Palo Alto and the desert towards the end of the month. (Although watch out for undefeated Colorado on the road in eight days.) We just need to trust that Cal will take care of business against less talented teams.