Doug McDermott scored 34 points, and Allen Crabbe shot 6-25 from the field. There are other aspects of the game to discuss, but there's no reason to make it any more complicated than that. McDermott is an All-American, and played his best game of the year. Crabbe is a Pac-12 POY candidate, and probably played his worst game in a Cal uniform.
Frankly, with McDermott firing on all cylinders and Crabbe stuck in neutral, the fact that Cal had a decent shot to win the game seems stunning. Give some credit to Cal's defense and lots of credit to David Kravish and Tyrone Wallace (and, really, the entire team) for locking down the glass.
Taken in isolation, it's tempting to just tip your cap to McDermott, chalk Crabbe's rough game up to a bad night at the wrong time, and move on. Beyond being tempting, it's probably right. But that doesn't make it any more palatable. After starting off the season 6-0, the Bears have missed on all of their shots at non-con wins that would impress the selection committee.
A few sequences loom large. Crabbe missing a transition lay-in that would have brought Cal within 1 at halftime, only for Creighton to score going the other way after his miss. Cal's defense lapsing for a brief period, and Creighton capitalizing with 3 straight back-breaking 3s to blow the game open. Justin Cobbs only had 1 turnover, but it was a bad one and it came at the most inopportune time, with McDermott briefly on the bench and Cal poised to climb back into the game.
And worst of all, Cal had one last chance a chance to cut Creighton's lead to 2 or 3 points and had multiple shots in one possession. None of Cal's put-backs would fall, and the Bluejays hit their free throws to ice the game.
Three reasons Cal actually had a chance:
1. Tyrone Wallace continues to impress. He didn't have a great day from the field, but he pulled down 10 rebounds, attacked the basket, drew fouls, blocked shots, played solid defense, and generally made things happen.
2. Justin Cobbs broke out of his mini-slump. Like I mentioned above, the solitary turnover was a killer, but he carried the offense without much support from anybody, really. He rediscovered his jumper, got into the lane, and generally made smart decisions with the ball.
3. Ricky Kreklow is back, hopefully for good. He didn't have the opportunity to do much because he's going to have to learn (like Jorge learned) that you can only be so aggressive on defense when Pac-12 refs are involved*. I think only one of his five fouls were actual shooting fouls, i.e. fouls actually drawn by the opponent. The rest were over-aggressive hustle fouls that wouldn't have been called in the Big-12. He'll learn.
Chart of Misery
Cal didn't turn the ball over, they dominated the glass, and the free throw battle was significantly more even before Creighton took nine foul shots in the last 34 seconds of the game. The Bluejays won by making shots while the Bears didn't.
It's hard not to be pessimistic right now. Cal let two golden opportunities slip through their fingers. I think that there are lots of reasons to be optimistic. The Pac-12 is significantly better than last year, Tyrone Wallace has gotten good faster than one might have expected, and Ricky Kreklow is back. Allen Crabbe probably won't have another game like this for the rest of the season.
But the pieces need to come together quickly. Five of Cal's first seven Pac-12 games are on the road, and unlike last year there probably aren't any automatic wins to be had. The homer in me wants to say that the Bears are losing games they should win, because statistically unlikely things are happening at bad times. Is there any other way to describe one of the better pure shooters Cal has ever had going 6-25 from the field?! And yet I can't keep blaming random chance unless the Bears prove me right by winning games.
*I hate talking about refs because it's boring, annoying and petty at the same time, which is an impressive trifecta. And Cal lost this game because of McDermott, not because of the refs. But I want to give kudos to Richard Solomon for getting whistled for a technical. The game was already over, and he had just been whistled for a foul for standing in the general vicinity of a Creighton player falling over - the last of a number of bad, bad calls towards the end of the game. May as well get your money's worth.