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WSU 75, Cal 71: Bears Lose Strange, Disjointed Game

A walk-on freshman played 31 minutes.  Klay Thompson was WSU's 4th leading scorer. Both teams combined for 48 points in the first half and 96 in the second.  And for the first time this season Cal lost a game because their opponents got to the line more than the Bears.

So no, nothing about this game made much sense.  But the reason Cal lost ended up being pretty simple:  Washington St. won the battle inside, and that was the one battle the Bears needed to win to get a victory.  With Allen Crabbe out it was exceedingly unlikely that guard play could carry the Bears.  The onus was on Markhuri Sanders-Frison and Harper Kamp to carry the Bears to victory.  Markhuri really struggled to get the ball in good position against the excellent interior defense of DeAngelo Casto.  Harper didn't have a bad game by any stretch, but in the end Casto and Brock Motum outproduced Cal's bigs and that was the difference.

Still, it felt like a minor miracle that the Bears were in a position to steal away this game.  For the first 27 minutes of the game Cal's offense looked like it did before Gary Franklin transferred.  MSF and Kamp couldn't find space inside, nobody on the outside could create their own shot, everybody but Jeff Powers was ice cold from the field and every other possession seemed to end in an unforced turnover.  That's not particularly surprising in a way, because Crabbe has played the most minutes of any player in the Pac-10.  Losing a guy that is essentially always on the floor is bound to lead to some problems.

And then suddenly the Bears couldn't miss.  After scoring 31 points in 27 minutes they scored 40 points in 13 minutes.  If we only learned one thing from Cal's sudden offensive surge, it's that getting production from Jorge Gutierrez is vitally important to their chances.  What, we already knew that?  OK, fine, this game just provided more proof of how important Jorge is to this team.  With Jorge pressing early, the Bears barely managed to hang on - mostly because Washington St. was settling for bad 3 attempt after bad 3 attempt.  As soon as WSU's offense got going in the 2nd half I thought we were toast, but Jorge found his shooting touch just in time to lead Cal's comeback.  But on the road, without Crabbe?  Too little, too late.

Many of you will likely want to quibble with the refs in this game.  We're not accustomed to the Bears drawing two less fouls and attempting 14 less free throws than their opponent this year.  But as goofy as some of the individual calls were (like Reggie Moore's 5 step travel to end the 1st half, or a bizarre continuation on a Harper Kamp basket) Washington St. got more free throws because they were the more aggressive team and because they got the ball into the low post with much more success.

Jorge was settling for pull up jumpers the entire game.  The most jarring play of the game was when Jorge attacked on a 1 on 1 fast break and pulled up in the middle of the key.  I don't think I've ever seen him do anything other than lower his head and charge for the rim to draw the inevitable foul.  Maybe his 5th foul charge in overtime against Arizona was running through his head and he was actively trying to avoid foul trouble.  But whatever the reason the Bears seemed significantly less aggressive today and it might have cost them the game.  Just take a look at the chart for a visual:



Certainly Cal's performance wasn't all doom and gloom.  Jeff Powers just put on a performance that would never have you guessing that A) he's a freshman walk-on and B) he more than doubled his minutes played as a Bear in one game.  True, it doesn't take a unique talent to camp at the three point line and launch jumpers, but his performance was much more than that.  For one, a few of his 3's were coming off of screens or after running in transition - he wasn't standing stationary and setting up his shot.  Dude's got a quick release.  Also, he showed a level of athleticism and control driving the ball that was rather shocking.

It's just one game, but how many players score 14 points on 8 shots with just 1 turnover while essentially seeing the first consequential minutes of their career?  Hell, it's a better 'debut' than Crabbe had, and Allen's probably going to win Pac-10 freshman of the year.  At the very least he's the latest player to stake his claim at back up shooting guard/small forward.  And here's guessing he'll take advantage of the opportunity he's been given:

What’s your basketball career highlight so far? I’d just say having an opportunity to play at Cal. I’m blessed to be here. The opportunity, I can’t say how thankful I am for it. I love school, I love coming here. And my parents are overjoyed that I’m here.

Also worth mentioning is another encouraging showing from Richard Solomon, who again flashed the type of talents that make you think he can be a force on both ends of the floor sooner rather than later.  In just 16 minutes he pulled down seven rebounds, made two powerful blocks, used his length to create a turnover and scored six points.  Two of those points came on a thunderous dunk in transition during Cal's 2nd half comeback.  Watching him play in the same game as Casto might give Cal fans a glimpse of the type of player Solomon can become - someone who can control the key on defense with his shot blocking ability and length.

That's the good news.  The not-so-good news is that Cal has now lost three games in a row.  None of the three loses are surprising, and the Bears were very competitive in two of them despite playing the first place team in the conference in one game and playing without their star freshman on the road in the other.  But that's of little consolation.  And the schedule doesn't get vastly easier with the L.A. schools coming to town.

On the other hand, maybe there's reason for optimism.  USC seems to be in free fall and the Bears have some unfinished business with the Bruins.  A northwest sweep means that fanciful dreams of NCAA tournament berths are all but dead, but there's still plenty to play for, and just as many reasons to keep watching.