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Kansas 78, Cal 63 - Toughness Only Gets You So Far

I love the intensity and intangibles on this team.  Jorge Gutierrez is one of the toughest, meanest basketball players in the NCAA, and he will not back down from anybody, even when he probably should.  Grandmaster Harper Kamp is as intelligent, calm, and heady as they come.  I would follow Markhuri Sanders-Frison and his primal yells, furrowed brow and angry face to the ends of the earth.  For about 30 seconds I was almost fooled into thinking that Cal could will their way into hanging with the Jayhawks.  If wanting it the most was all that mattered, Cal might be Pac-10 favorites.

But that's not how basketball works.  Talent matters.  Experience matters.  Kansas had the advantage in both categories by sizeable margins, and it showed for the majority of the game.

The fact that drawing flagrant fouls was Cal's best offensive play was all you needed to know about their chances.  I don't know if Jorge got into somebody's head early, or if a few unintentional elbows turned into something much more than they should have, but the game got chippy very quickly.  Regardless, Marcus Morris was eventually ejected early in the 2nd half after elbowing Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp on two seperate plays.  A few plays later, a clearly frustrated Jorge had to be restrained by both Harper Kamp and Mike Montgomery after a wild scrum for a loose ball, picking up his 4th foul in the process.

All of the goofiness seemed to briefly throw Kansas off their game, and Cal bravely took advantage by finishing off a 17-3 run that brought the Bears within 3 points with 12:48 to play. . . and it all fell apart from there.  Kansas regrouped, and Cal was unable to sustain the intensity that was somehow keeping things close.  A 24-11 run killed the drama, and the clock ran out without any more extracurriculars.

The Bears did do a few things right.  They were actually outrebounding the Jayhawks until Kansas started claiming all the boards in garbage time.  For the first 30 minutes the Bears did a particularly good job securing the defensive glass, and Kansas was generally held to one and done possessions.  It's not a coincidence that Kansas's lead really started to balloon when they started getting offensive rebounds.

I also don't think the Bears played a poor game defensively, again excepting garbage time.  The Jayhawks settled for lots of 3 pointers in the first half, and didn't really start getting to the rim much until later in the game.  Essentially, defensive rebounding and defense kept Cal in contact with a much more talented team despite severe struggles on offense.

And oh that offense.  As best I can tell (and Kenpom backs me up on this), Cal has one above average offensive skill:  Presumably due to the fearlessness and toughness I opened this recap discussing, they have a knack for drawing fouls and getting to the line. But that one skill is only valuable if you actually convert from the charity stripe, and that's probably not something the Bears will excel at this year.  Missing 14 free throws allowed Kansas to take control that much sooner.

That Cal struggled to score from the floor against Kansas isn't remotely surprising.  I fully anticipated that Cal's usual best offensive strategy - getting the ball to Harper and Markhuri in good position on the low block - would be difficult against the kind of athleticism that Kansas would bring.  That turned out to be the case - hell, Nigel Carter took more shots than Harper or MSF.  But I wasn't prepared to watch Cal throw away their chances to the tune of 17 turnovers, most of which happening before the game was decided.  It was a team wide effort, with 4 of Cal's starting 5 recording at least 3 turnovers.

Individually, perhaps only Jorge had a good offensive game and even that's a stretch.  And Jorge got himself in foul trouble and had to sit for long portions of the game, something he's going to have to learn to avoid.  Cal just isn't deep enough to have either of their three main players on the bench.  Gary Franklin continued his shooting slump, and launched up another handful of cringe-worthy contested jumpers early in the shot clock.  Save one great knifing runner through the lane Nigel Carter didn't make a good argument to take minutes from Franklin.  Allen Crabbe needs to steal approximately 40% of Gary Franklin's bravado.  And nobody on the bench had any obvious impact on offense.

So, where does this all leave us?  Clearly Kansas can beat the Bears in ways that most Pac-10 teams can't, but at the same time Arizona, UCLA and USC all gave the Jayhawks tougher games, and they did that at neutral sites or on the road.  I'm reasonably certain that Harper and Markuri will find more success offensively against every other team in the Pac-10 with the notably exception of USC.  And maybe scrappy toughness will be enough to steal a few games in the friendly confines of Haas Pavilion.  But I'm willing to say that I thought that Allen Crabbe and Gary Franklin would be a little further along offensively right now, at that concerns me for what is a brutal opening to the Pac-10 schedule.

We should guard ourselves on getting too down - Kansas isn't the number 3 team in the country for nothing and Cal has played one of the toughest schedules in the country thus far.  It's cold comfort, but our Bears are giving their all every time on the court, and they refuse to be intimidated by any team, regardless of how talented they may be.  During a massive rebuilding year that's going to have to be enough.