So what style of game will it be? Which team will have the more successful transition offense? Can Cal stop Louisville from getting off high percentage looks? Can Louisville keep Cal off the glass? Even though these teams are evenly matched, I think the chances of a double digit win for somebody are fairly high because of the chances of one team imposing their type of game on the other.
For 20 minutes, Cal and Louisville played basketball exactly how the Bears wanted. When Cal wanted to run, they ran. When Cal wanted to rebound, they got a rebound. Louisville couldn't get good shots off, and they were throwing the ball away.
For 20 minutes, Cal and Louisville played basketball exactly how the Cardinals wanted. Cal never had the chance to run. The Cardinals were getting good looks from behind the arc and getting players free to drive off of screens and ball movement. Their trapping zones bogged Cal down in the half court set and forced turnovers.
During those first 20 minutes, the Bears looked like world beaters, and they built a 10 point lead that perhaps didn't fully do justice to how well they played. During those second 20 minutes, the Cardinals looked like world beaters, and it was enough for them to roar back and advance to the title game.
And while I'm quoting myself, here's another one:
The team that wins the turnover battle will have a significant advantage.
Louisville won the turnover battle, 19-14. And it's not so much those extra five possessions that matters - it's what the numbers say about the style of game that was played.
When Cal got a shot off, it went in 44% of the time, and when Cal missed, they got the rebound 47% of the time. When Cal didn't turn the ball over, there was a very, very good chance of points. The bottom line is that Cal's point guards didn't have a great game, and that difference was pretty decisive.
If you listened to ESPN's announcers, you'd think that Cal has had this problem all year long. Hardly. Why did Cal struggle with turnovers today? I don't know. Some of it was careless - a silly over-the-back, or miscommunication on passes. Some of it was Louisville traps. Some of it was over aggressiveness on offense.
But perhaps the biggest reason Cal lost was the free throw line. Cal made one free throw to Louisville's 14. That's a huge advantage, a difference that I can't recall in any other Cal game this year. And despite another random, unpredictable reffing experience, I can't say that it was totally undeserved. Cal and Louisville were more or less equally aggressive in the first half, but in the 2nd half Cal was much more passive in terms of pushing tempo and attacking Louisville's zone, and the fouls dried up as a result. If there's one thing that buoyed the Bears in the tournament, it was a new-found ability to constantly get to the line. That aggression just wasn't there against the Cardinals, and it hurt.
Defensively, I thought the Bears mostly did quite well, with one obvious exception: getting out on Antonita Slaughter. The Schimmel sisters were largely silent. Bria Smith scored efficiently, but turned it over 8 times. It was Slaughter who did the damage, and she did it by essentially just camping at the three point line and waiting for the Bears to forget about her. She attempted 11 shots. 10 of them were threes, and the other was a long 2. When a player is that one-dimensional, it shouldn't be hard to prevent her from doing her thing. But Cal was so focused (perhaps rightly) on Schimmel and Smith, and Louisville was so good at setting screens and penetrating before kicking it out, that she still managed 6 three pointers.
Individually, Layshia Clarendon was the stand-out player for the Bears, and her entire post-season tournament will likely be a spring board to the WNBA draft. She scored 17 and seemingly hit every shot when Cal needed an answer. She will be sorely, sorely missed next year.
And thus, the season came to a close. It feels weird analyzing this game, without talking about what it means for the next one. There will be a next game, but it won't be until next October, and it will be a very different Cal team on the court come 2013-14. Over the next few days we'll have some articles out talking about this team's legacy and looking forward to the next season of Cal basketball.
This group has raised the bar very, very high.