With Cal up 17 just inside nine minutes to play, I wondered to myself why exactly I was so worried about this game? Cal didn't really have much trouble with UCLA at Haas, and nothing the Bruins had done since really indicated that they had solved the problems that allowed the Bears to so thoroughly dominate on offense back in Berkeley.
I began to get worried that the gods were punishing my hubris when UCLA when on a 12-2 run, but Cal's defense clamped down, Allen Crabbe hit the dagger three and Cal fans got their happy ending. UCLA is potentially scary team, with players that have some real talent and can create clear match-up problems. But the Bears emphatically proved that they are the superior team this season. The Bruin roster may have more stars next to their recruiting profiles, but Cal's roster has the Ws, and it's not just because Monty is a great coach.
Cal won because their guards played well, and because Cal's post players played great defense. Josh Smith, Travis Wear and David Wear are all dangerous offensive players. But Harper Kamp, David Kravish, Robert Thurman and Bak Bak held them to a combined 8-26 (31%) from the field. If you force Jerime Anderson and Lazeric Jones to carry the offensive load you're probably going to win the game, and that's just what Cal's bigs did. Hats off.
Offensively . . . it was pretty much a replay of the first game, except with a few more unforced turnovers mixed in. It's a minor problem, but sometimes the Bears seem almost too unselfish. I think 5 or 6 turnovers came because players passed up decent shots to make one more pass than was necessary. But when Cal wasn't turning the ball over they were getting open shot after open shot, uncontested layups to Kamp and Thurman, easy penetration for Jorge and Cobbs . . . hell, Cal only took 5 three pointers! When you can get whatever you want inside there's really no point in hoisting up long range jumpers, which is a lesson that the Wear twins hopefully never get.
The simple summary is that UCLA is a bad defensive team, and their defense seems to be a particularly good matchup for Cal. The Bruins just don't have the type of fast, aggressive defenders that seem to bother Cal's guards, their big men aren't especially mobile, and Cal is free to pass the ball at will. I would love to see UCLA again in the Pac-12 tournament because I just don't see how they can stop Cal from scoring. (Wow, am I sounding too overconfident? I'm asking for it, aren't I?)
Look at that beautiful chart. Cal's mostly unforced turnovers was the only reason the final score wasn't a bigger blowout. Major kudos (again) to the post players for holding their own on the glass against the bigger UCLA front line. David Kravish has really blossomed as a rebounder, and I can't wait to watch him pair with Richard Solomon and dominate the glass next year . . . but I'm getting ahead of myself.
Right now it's important to enjoy the race for the conference crown. The good news? Cal ended yesterday in first place in the conference, and if things go right (GO BEAVERS!) they'll still be in first when they take the court next Thursday. They won the first of three potentially tricky road games, and they still control their own destiny. It won't be easy, but everything is still there for the taking.
The bad news? There are only two more games at Haas Pavilion for Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp. Cal fans, you need to get yourselves tickets to next week's games, because two greats are making their curtain call.