The Bears seemingly had no business winning this game. After just 11:41 of game time ASU was up 16. with 8:24 left in the game it was 15. Sure, that deficit fluctuated a bit as the game went by, but for the most part ASU maintained a double-digit lead and you never really got the sense that Cal was going to come back. Whenever the Bears hit a couple shots, Evan Gordon hit a floater or Jahii Carson drew a foul or Ruslan Pateev got an easy put-back.
And then Herb Sendek decided that his team didn't need to play offense any more, and the Bears went on a 14-2 run, and twice possessed the ball with a chance to tie it up in the final minute of play. Nothing in the preceding 32 minutes of basketball suggested that Cal had that type of a run in them, but goofy things started happening. ASU started dribbling the ball aimlessly for 20 seconds before forcing a bad shot as the shot clock expired. Tyrone Wallace suddenly couldn't miss. 4-1 ASU fast breaks turned into Cal baskets. Justin Cobbs started raining 3 pointers.
And perhaps most oddly of all, the most trustworthy, least turnover prone Bear suddenly couldn't take care of the basketball. That statement isn't really fair to Allen Crabbe. His first turnover was caused in part because it was passed the ball while double teamed in the corner. His second turnover was caused in part because he was slapped on the arm and the refs didn't call anything. But at the same time: Allen Crabbe is Cal's go-to player, and the Bears count on him to make smart decisions and good plays even when he's put into bad situations.
And so I'm left with mixed feelings. On one hand the Bears nearly came back from a seemingly hopeless situation on the road. On the other hand, ASU's point-shaving offense over the last few minutes mask bigger issues. For the sixth time in eight games the Bears started a game completely flat. Just look at these moments in recent games:
Washington 34, Cal 18
Stanford 37, Cal 27
Utah 28, Cal 17
Colorado 21, Cal 9
Oregon State 30, Cal 18
Arizona State 22, Cal 9
Those are all first half scores. Six times in the last eight games the Bears have fallen behind by double digits. Twice they've managed to recover to win, twice they've managed to come back enough to make the game competitive, and twice they just got blown out. Cal is clearly a flawed team, but they are still a solid, middle of the pack team in this conference. They shouldn't be falling behind by double digits on a regular basis like this. Especially to teams like Utah and Oregon State.
CHART OF MISERY
Cal almost shot their way back into this one, but there were just a few too many turnovers and a few too many Arizona State offensive rebounds. ASU managed 13 second chance points, but perhaps the biggest offensive rebound came just inside the 3:00 minute mark. ASU ran the shot clock down, got an offensive rebound, and missed another shot as the clock expired. It was a zero point possession that took 1:10 off the clock. Add an extra 35 second to the clock and maybe Cal finishes their comeback attempt.
Of course, a few offensive rebounds is hardly a surprised - ASU has some monsters inside and Cal hasn't been great on the defensive glass this year. The turnovers are more perplexing. Cal just seems to have games every once in a while like this, when everybody on the team doesn't bring their best decision making at once. Wild passes, bobbled balls, ill-advised drives . . . it was a team-wide effort with every starter other than David Kravish turning the ball over at least 3 times. Less than half of the turnovers were steals, so it's not like ASU's defense played a huge role in the problem either.
So yeah. Cal missed a chance for a split, and now they face #7 Arizona on the road. If you've watched the Wildcats play lately, you would probably agree that they are beatable. But if Cal comes out slow again and Arizona is up by double digits, they will not let up on the gas. The Bears need to give 40 minutes of effort and execution or it will be ugly.