The "Eureka!" moment never arrived on Saturday for the California Golden Bears offense. Against the vaunted zone defense of the Syracuse Orange, the Bears could not effectively attack the basket all game long. Cal star and Pac-12 Player of the Year, Allen Crabbe, was held to just 8 points on 3 of 9 shooting with zero free throw attempts and 5 turnovers. Crabbe's backcourt star, Justin Cobbs, was held to 5 point on 2 of 9 shooting, with 0 for 5 from beyond the 3 point arc and 4 turnovers. A career best offensive night from Richard Solomon, 22 point on 7 of 12 shooting from the field and 8 of 13 from the charity stripe, was not enough to overcome the frequent trips to the free throw line by the Orange. Solomon also had 14 rebounds and just 1 turnover for the game.
"They keyed in on me," Crabbe said on the Syracuse Zone. "I mean, the shots that I thought I would probably get weren't there. They took things away from me."
Cal defense actually held Syracuse to a lower shooting percentage for the game (39.1%) than for Cal (39.3%). Bears also significantly outshot Syracuse on 2 point attempts (51.4% for the Bears thanks to the good work of Solomon and Robert Thurman to Syracuse's 38.8%). Unfortunately, the Orange shot 22 more free throws for the game. Syracuse's inaptitude from the line, missing 15 free throws, did allow the Bears to hang close for most of the game, as the Bears stayed about just 8 points behind since about 8 minutes into the game.
One day was not enough for the Bears to master an effective attack against the Syracuse's siege warfare. While Orange coach Jim Boeheim is no intellectual match to the most famous Syracusean of all time, Archimedes, of that much more interesting Syracuse in history, the 3-2 zone used by the Orange may as well been the fancy siege machines designed by Archimedes to defeat the Roman during the siege of Syracuse in the Second Punic War.
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Bears' plan to run plays for star Allen Crabbe was thwarted by the Syracuse' defense clamping down on Crabbe in every opportunity. While Crabbe probably could have (and should have, in my opinion) try to assert himself more by taking more Jerome Randle-esque 3 point attempts (Crabbe shot 2 for 5 from 3 point line, with both makes coming from way beyond the 3 point line), Cal sticked to the strategy of not trying to force too many bad shots. Bears constantly attempted to attack the ball inside, unfortunately, the quickness of the Syracuse defenders caused quite a few turnovers and a few jump ball situations after Solomon or Thurman did get the ball in the paint but brought the ball down briefly.
The turnover margin was not that terrible in the final result as the Bears only committed 2 extra turnovers. Cal was not able to capitalize and get much fast break points from the Orange's turnovers, however. Here is the comparison of the rest of the stats.
The chart of defeat shows the clear edge by Syracuse in getting to the free throw line.
The Bears actually won the last half of their 2012-13 seasons by outscoring the Orange by 2 points. The second half did see the Bears go through yet another stretch of offensive drought. During that said stretch for the Bears, Syracuse actually also did not make a basket. Syracuse was much better, however, at getting to the free throw line as their dribble penetration repeatedly drew foul calls on the Bears.
Syracuse's best NBA prospect on the team is supposed to be guard Michael Carter-Williams. The Bears defense held him to just 12 points (4 of 8 from the field, 4 of 9 from the free throw line, and 5 turnovers). The Orange's scoring leader was CJ Fair with 18 points.
David Kravish had an okay game for the Bears, with 6 boards and 3 assists. He would have had more than just one blocks had he not been called for a fouls on several occasions. Ricky Kreklow played 21 minutes to Brandon Smith's 9 minutes. Kreklow missed all 3 of his shot attempts and had 2 assists but 3 turnovers. It is not clear that Brandon Smith would have been able to break down the Syracuse zone more had he gotten more playing time.
Cal freshman Tyrone Wallace was the guy with the best looks for the Bears with all the attention on Crabbe and Cobbs. Wallace really need to work on his 3 point shooting more this offseason, however, as he hit just 2 of his 8 3 point attempts (about average for him for the year).
With all the offensive struggles by both side, the Bears had a legit shot toward the end of the game. Tyrone Wallace's 2nd 3 pointer made with 1:57 to go cut the lead to 7. Kravish was credited with a steal on the next Syracuse possession but the referee thought Crabbe's foot was out of bound (replay showed that Crabbe's heel was NOT touching the floor out of bound). Syracuse's Jame Southerland then missed a dunk, but Cuse got the ball back and proceed to get fouled (making just 1 of 2 free throws). A Cobbs layup was partially offset by Cuse's free throw trip (1 of 2 again). With one minute left and a 7 point deficit still, Cobbs was called for a charge against Carter-Williams. Bear could not get closer until a final Solomon layup with 8 second made the final deficit just 6 points.
Here is the final graphical box scores of the year for the Bears:
And for Syracuse:
Now we just have to wait and see whether Allen Crabbe will return for senior year or not. I am not entirely sure that Crabbe is enough of a NBA prospect to truly take advantage of this year's weak draft class. The expectation for next season will surely be a lot higher if Crabbe is back to play with the high touted incoming class, featuring Jabari Bird.