Cal basketball dances out of March Madness in 59-56 loss to Colorado

Ethan Miller

It was another variation on the same type of loss the Golden Bears have had all season.

It isn't very surprising that a Golden Bear team that hasn't played good basketball for about a month went down thanks to the same issues that have plagued them over that period of time. Hell, these next few sentences are practically the mantra for why we aren't going dancing.

  • They could not hit open jump shots.
  • They got pounded on the glass.
  • They missed critical free throws.
  • They had critical defensive lapses.
  • They came out of the gates slow and had to battle their way back in it.

Outside shooting: Let's start with the jump shot game, which was the critical difference in the contest. Tad Boyle is not a stupid individual. He knew exactly what Cal's weaknesses were going into the game. He packed the paint with three to four defenders, daring the Bears to beat them with outside shots that they haven't been hitting for the second half of the season.

Sure enough, ROLL TAD. I believe I could count on my fingers the number of times we hit a bucket outside the paint. There were the five threes, a few David Kravish mid-range buckets...and that's about it. Jordan Matthews, Jabari Bird, and Ricky Kreklow went 3-13, with almost all of their looks coming from the outside. Cal shot 5-22 from three point range, and it could've been worse if Kreklow didn't come out of the second half and make his only real offensive contributions of the night.

As engaged as Richard Solomon was defensively, he was nowhere to be found offensively, putting up four points and only taking five shots. Considering he played 38 minutes, it was a bit flabbergasting to see him accomplish nothing inside to change the course of the game, particularly when Cal needed inside buckets.

Rebounding. Colorado dominated the glass in the first half, grabbing several crucial offensive boards (and would grab another one late that would run precious time off the clock). Solomon grabbed 16 rebounds on the game, the rest of the team 13. David Kravish has proven to be a solid offensive player (and finished with ten points and four blocks today), but there are too many games where he just gets out-physicalled, and this was a game where the bigs of Colorado (particularly Xavier Johnson and Josh Scott) came to play and just kept our frontline down. It would have been interesting to see if Cal would have performed better with Kameron Rooks drawing added minutes, as he feels like the perfect defensive matchup for this Colorado frontline.

Free throw shooting: Cal finishes the season shooting 68% from the charity stripe (down from 71.5% last year, down from 74% the year before). Richard Solomon regressed majorly (from 65% to 53%), and Tyrone Wallace's (60% at the line) constant misses on front ends of one-and-ones killed way too many comebacks. After Tyrone did his "Where's Wallace" impression in the first half, he did the right thing and drove to the basket, picking up ten necessary second half points to bring us back in it. But he missed four of his six free throw attempts, keeping Cal from totally erasing the Colorado lead.

Defensive lapses: There weren't as many as previous losses. Most of the second half offense was just "let's ask Askia Booker to do something leader-like" and "post up Scott and Johnson". But most of the game was was just a stark contrast in sharpness in the halfcourt game. Colorado set strong screens, got clean looks, and took advantage of the switching defense on just enough occasions to squeeze it out. And we've already talked about all the offensive rebounds we gave up.

Slow start: Again. Only instead of a few minutes, it lasted almost the entire first half. The Bears came out with renewed energy in the second half, but why, why, why do our spurts always have to come after we've dug ourselves nice and comfortable holes?

After it took 20 minutes of clanged jumpers to realize that this is exactly what Colorado wanted them to do, Justin Cobbs and Wallace started taking the ball to the rim, and buckets resulted, as did our comeback. But the damage was done, just like in so many previous, narrow losses. It's been weeks since the Golden Bears went into halftime with a comfortable lead, and I really wonder what type of team we're going to see next season with Cobbs and Solomon gone.

It was almost like the reverse of 2013, where it seemed Cal pulled out every nailbiter in their favor--this year there wasn't enough mettle or leadership or toughness to pull out those victories. Cobbs played valiantly down the stretch in trying to bring the Bears back (again), but got only occasional offensive help from Wallace and Kravish and pressed a bit too much with a few unforced turnovers.

At the very end, Colorado seemed to fatigue up, giving Cal plenty of chances that they unfortunately could not convert:

  • Wallace missed the front-end of a one-and-one that would have tied the game.
  • Sam Singer (solid in backup minutes and in some ways the most Monty-type recruit of our freshmen class) missed a game-tying three and whiffed a go-ahead layup.
  • Cobbs missed the two last-chance buckets of the night. The final three was anything goes, but it felt like we could have gotten that looked a lot better.
  • Mike Montgomery probably called for a Cobbs pull-up, which was a poor decision based on the way the Bears were shooting from the outside all night. Not the coach's best play. Not the coach's best season.

So it's over. Other than a few NIT games that we will probably treat like training practice for next season, Cal basketball wraps up its most frustrating and disappointing campaign in the Mike Montgomery era. We had one great moment and an awesome stretch to start 2014 that made us think that we would contend for many things this season.

But our weaknesses became apparent midway through January, and a deep Pac-12 has happily exploited it on plenty of occasions. It's hard to say we're tournament-worthy when we get outplayed by Arizona State and Utah (two good but terrible road teams), drop road games we should win handily against USC and UC Santa Barbara, get blown out in our final four matchups against tournament teams, and lose 9 of our last 14 games.

In fact, why do we really need March Madness? The revenue sports have been full of madness for all of us the past six months. I need a break and so do you. Let's see what swimming, rugby, women's basketball, and baseball have in store for us the next few months and enjoy the time we're getting off from all this unneeded frustration.

Go Bears!

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