It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t always fun, but when the dust settled the Bears finished the weekend 2-0, earning their single most important win of the season in the process. Phew.
The Arizona game should never have gone to overtime. Between the double digit second half lead and two golden opportunities to win in regulation, the Bears at least showed plenty of resolve to not let down in overtime and avoid a potentially crippling bad loss. But the Arizona State game was a joy – a well executed game between two solid teams, with Cal emerging with the road win.
The sweep sets up a weekend that is still hugely important, though the luster has been somewhat tarnished by USC’s surprising 1-4 record in their last five conference games. Here is a list of things Cal can earn with a home sweep:
-Potentially two more wins over top-50 RPI opponents, which would push Cal’s record against those types of teams to a respectable 4-6
-An absolute death grip on second place in the conference. If Stanford also sweeps as expected, that would give Cal at least two game lead over ASU and OSU, a three game lead over UCLA and a four game lead over USC. Even a loss to Stanford wouldn’t by itself move Cal out of second place.
-A likely top 25 ranking in one or more polls, which isn’t necessarily meaningful but sounds cool and builds excitement.
Put simply, a sweep would put Cal in an ideal spot with just five games left in the regular season. With four eminently winnable games against Oregon, Oregon St., Colorado and Utah, a 14-4 conference record would be conceivable. And if Cal finished with that record a tournament seed around 6 wouldn’t surprise me. Add in a win against Stanford at Haas or in the Pac-12 tournament and . . . wait, this has to stop. I’m getting waaaaaaay too far ahead of myself. For any of these things to happen Cal needs to beat two teams that they have already lost to this year. Time to take care of business.
Cal vs. Arizona
I feel like there are two variables that have outsized impacts on Cal’s performance: Cal’s shooting generally, and Cal’s 3 point defense specifically. The Bears lost to UCLA in large part because they were completely unable to make a shot. They fell behind to Colorado because the Buffs couldn’t miss a 3. And they got beaten badly by USC because they couldn’t make a shot AND USC got hot from 3.
We saw both of those issues play out against the Wildcats. In the first half everything played out more or less as expected, and Cal had a 12 point lead at the break. But Arizona hit four of their next seven 3 pointers while Cal made just four shots over the first 17 minutes of the second half. A 14 point lead turned into a 7 point deficit. Luckily Cal rediscovered their shooting touch just in time to get to overtime and escape Tucson with a win. But the ability to consistently create and then make open shots might be the difference between ‘very good’ and ‘great’ right now.
Cal vs. Arizona St.
A back-and-forth thriller in which both teams were never separated by more than seven points. The second half included two lead changes and three ties. Both teams played at a high level on both ends of the floor and the game was in doubt well into the final minute.
Cal won the game for two reasons. They badly outrebounded the Sun Devils, especially in the second half. An ill Gen Brandon didn’t look as smooth as normal on offense, but she was her usual self on the glass with 13 rebounds in just 24 minutes. As mentioned in the CGB preview, ASU is one of the few teams that has been able to hold their own in the rebounding battle. They couldn’t last Saturday, and the extra 17 shots Cal took were decisive.
The other reason: Brittany Boyd’s quick hands. Just consider this line:
19 points (8-17 from the field), 6 assists, 6 rebounds, 10 steals
10 steals! I went to the box score to check, and Boyd stole the ball from six different Sun Devils! The stat line looks like a Jason Kidd line. How about this for a comparison:
Brittany Boyd, freshman: 10 ppg, 4.7 assists/game, 3.7 rebounds/game, 2.6 steals/game
Jason Kidd, freshman: 13 ppg, 7.7 assist/game, 4.9 rebounds/game, 3.8 steals/game
The main difference? Boyd has only played 24 minutes/game, which I’m guessing is significantly less court time than Kidd got his freshman season. The counting stats are looking much more similar now that Brittany gets closer to 30 minutes/game. Is Boyd the female Jason Kidd? That’s an extreme comparison for a number of reasons. No collegiate can really be fairly compared to a future hall-of-famer. Boyd probably turns it over a bit more often, and I think she controls the game more with her ability to drive while Kidd controlled with his ability to pass.
But the basic idea – that we’re seeing a rare player that can control the game by passing, scoring, or defending – increasingly appears to be the case.
Oddly enough, it looks like the UCLA game is actually more important than the USC game, a situation that seemed impossible just a few months ago. Both teams have been heavily rocked by injuries, but UCLA has dealt with those setbacks better than the Trojans have, and as a result sit just one game back of the Bears.
Still, both teams have given Cal fits lately and both will be fighting to keep their NCAA chances alive, so Cal will have to be at their best. Fans of course will be able to watch both games via Cal All-Access, but the USC game has been moved so that it can be televised on Saturday night, so check it out if you can't make it to the game.