Let's get the caveats out of the way early: This is a game that, regardless of how the Bears played on Wednesday, we expect this team should win. Cal, playing at home, against a team generally expected to finish in the bottom 3rd of the conference, should win the game.
But we all saw what happened against Washington. We all heard Monty's comments, and we all heard the comments from the players themselves. The Bears had plenty of things they needed to correct, and for the most part they did.
To start with, the effort was there. That effort didn't always manifest itself in particularly beautiful ways, but we saw a team perfectly willing to get physical, dive to the floor, reach in to tie up the ball and initiate contact. There were multiple examples of a frustrating inability to secure the ball, but the important thing was that the hands were getting to the ball in the first place.
And the defense was simply brilliant. .844 points/possession is Wazzu's 3rd worst on the year, and this was arguably Brock Motum's worst performance of the season. His five field goals is his second lowest output of the season, and if not for three free throws from an NBA-quality flop/drawn foul he might've finished with a season low in points. He missed a bunch of shots, only pulled down 2 rebounds, and was basically a non-entity for the final 15 minutes of the game.
Who should we credit? Well, pretty much everybody, because almost every post player got a chance to defend him. Richard Solomon used his length and superior athleticism to bother Motum. Kravish had the discipline and quickness to generally stay in front of him. Bak Bak made it work with pure energy. And no matter who had the primary assignment, Cal's help defense on Motum was always excellent. Defense is always a team effort, and that was exemplified by what the posts did on Motum. And after we all assumed the worst prior to the game!
Holding down Motum is always a great start to beating Wazzu because the Cougars just don't have other players to step up and make you pay. Mike Ladd and Royce Woolridge combined to score 24 points, but they attempted 29 shots to get there and typified Washington State's inefficient offense.
Of course, I would hardly classify Cal's offense as efficient either. The Bears shot reasonably well and did a fantastic job of getting to the line,* but 18 turnovers really soured what might have been a more encouraging performance. Again, there's no one player to blame as every man who got into the game had at least one. Every guard dribbled themselves into trouble and every post got stripped pretty easily. When Cal had their first turnover-filled game (against Wisconsin) I dismissed it as a bad day/statistical fluke. Cal's season numbers are still more or less in line with what we've seen over the entirety of the Montgomery era, but it's something worth following through the rest of conference play.
CHART OF VICTORY
Cal made 18 more free throws than the Cougars, and that basically decided the game. I actually thought the rebounding advantage Wazzu had would look more pronounced, but part of the reason they had more offensive rebounds is because they missed way more shots and thus had more opportunity. And why did they miss more shots? In part because Cal blocked a shocking 11 of them. We've been complaining about Cal's apparent lack of athleticism. I'd actually say that Cal is reasonably athletic, but that they haven't been showing it at all of late. Well, they showed it off against Wazzu. Richard Solomon in particular had a superb defensive effort, but David Kravish, Allen Crabbe, Tyrone Wallace and Bak Bak all got involved as well.
It's the efforts of Bak and Solomon that I'd particularly like to highlight. When Solomon was declared ineligible last year, I thought Cal would miss most his ability to impact games on defense by altering shots and pulling down defensive rebounds. This was the first time where I feel like he had that type of an impact every minute he was on the floor. As for Bak, he put in 15 minutes of unambiguously positive play - he played good man defense, he played good help defense, he pulled down some boards and he drew some fouls.
The only relevant question? Can Cal bring that level of effort and (generally positive) execution to each and every game from this point forward?
*Although we should give credit to the refs for some iffy calls and Wazzu for some bad offensive fouls that got Cal into the bonus much faster