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California Golden Bears Can't Stop the USC Trojans, 78-75

As expected, the already short-handed Bears got some bad news right out of the gate:  Allen Crabbe was forced to sit out another game with post-concussion symptoms.  Throughout conference play, this team has continued to dig deep, to find a way to compete.  But at what point does fatigue and the rigors of the season start to catch up?  How many times can the Bears get by with effort and determination?  Unfortunately, it looks like you can only over-achieve for so long.

1st Half:

As expected, the Bears came out in zone.  Although the Trojan bigs were getting plenty of attention down low, it was noticeable that the Cal guards were spending a lot of energy chasing guys off the three point line.

Unfortunately, it looked initially like the offense didn't make the trip back from the frozen tundra.  We started 0-6 from the field, and as is typical when we struggle, most of the shots were rushed, early, or ill-advised.  Meanwhile, 'sc slowly built themselves a six point lead.

So, we did what we do best.  We started running into people.  Hip, hip, Jorge!  Thanks to free throws from Smith and Gutierrez, we clawed our way back into the game.

The post battle was interesting early on.  MSF did a great job of denying the ball and came up with two steals.  On the other end, 'sc started by trying to face-guard Kamp.  But when Monty went big and inserted Solomon as a third big, the Trojans were forced to switch up and play Kamp straight up.  Harper responded immediately with a nice baseline drive that led to free throws and a nifty post-up for 4 quick points.

And then the dreaded body bias reared it's ugly head...two fouls on MSF.  And then two on Harper Kamp.  Cue a 13-pt 'sc run fueled by offensive boards, putbacks, and open 3's.  Not good.

On the other end, our over-reliance on drawing fouls really hurt when the refs swallowed their whistles.  Instead of running our sets and working for high percentage shots, we settled for too many contested jumpers or off-balance heaves after contact.  Forced to play a lineup of Smith, Jorge, Powers, Bak Bak, and Solomon, the result was disjointed play with a lot of guys looking lost or getting in trouble from forcing the action.  It's understandable from the young guys, but Smith and Jorge weren't helping things, either, by setting the proper tone.  You can't fault Jorge's effort, but he was out of control more often than not.

Down 24-11, Monty rolled the dice and put MSF and Kamp back in.  It paid immediate dividends on the offensive end as the ball movement suddenly improved a gazillion percent.  Unfortunately, with our bigs playing ultra-conservatively, we couldn't stop them on defense or keep them off the offensive glass.  'Sc ran the lead to 14 at one point, and it was a minor miracle that they didn't blow the doors off this one.  In fact, it took an accidental alley-oop to cut the lead to 33-22 at the half.

The Good:  Despite shooting a woeful percentage and playing some utterly dreadful basketball, we managed to keep it somewhat respectable by getting to the line.

The Bad:  The inability to stop dribble penetration put a lot of pressure on our defense and gave them plenty of good looks.  With Kamp and MSF limited by foul trouble, we needed a lot more from Bak Bak and Solomon.

The Ugly:  We were woeful on the glass, particularly with giving up offensive boards.  However, the real eyesore was our offense.  It was 3rd-and-long bad. (too soon?)  We shot 16.7% from deep, 21.7% overall.  Oh, and that much ballyhooed battle in the paint?  Kamp/MSF had 8 pts, 4 boards, 4 fouls.  Vucevic/Stephenson combined for 20 and 14, 0 fouls.

2nd Half:

Whatever Monty said, did, or used at halftime, let's all promise not to report him.  The Bears came out on fire, led by Jorge who played with a quiet fury.  Although we still couldn't buy a jumper, a flurry of putbacks and hustle plays quickly cut the lead to 8.  The question was, could we sustain this level of effort?  Would our starting bigs be able to stay on the floor?

The Bears continued their relentless assault on the basket.  Meanwhile, the Trojans started to rely on low percentage runners and deep 3's instead of pressing their advantage inside.  Brandon Smith drove for a layup and one.  Then Kamp hit a jump hook.  And then another Smith driving layup.    4 point game?  No.  Really?  And then Jorge blew the lid off the basket with an open 3 off of motion.  1 point game!

But in the midst of the Bear run, both MSF and Kamp picked up their 3rd fouls.  Uh oh.  Although we remembered how to play offense, we also forgot how to play defense.  Apparently, we use the Kapaernick scheme to defend anyone named "M. Jones."  Maurice Jones almost singlehandedly blew the game back open to a 12-pt lead with a oh-here-we-go-again flurry of 3-pointers.  Our inexperience on the wing really showed with guys missing rotations, or doubling the wrong guy.  If anything, this should boost Crabbe's bid for FOY.  Although Jorge is known as a defensive pest, he can also get overly aggressive and find himself out of position.  By the time Monty switched to man, it was too little, too late.

The Bears kept battling, but the inability to get stops prevented us from going on any sustained runs.  You could see the effects of fatigue with short free throws, missed layups, and increasingly sloppy play.

I don't usually like to complain about the officiating.  However, it sure seemed like a lot of contact against the Bears was ignored, including an egregious intentional foul where Stephenson practically took MSF's head off.  You could see frustration come to a head when Smith and Jorge almost came to blows during the final moments and ended up fouling each other out with double technicals.  That's on the refs for failing to call a consistent game.  

However, although you could make a strong case for myopia, and perhaps incompetence, you still couldn't pin the outcome of this one on the zebras.  As has been the theme during the losing streak, our defense had stretches where it was more inviting to the opposing team than a Marshall-coached line.  Well, almost - let's not get ridiculous.  No matter how you want to spin it, our inability to shut down a hot shooter has been a recurrent issue all year.  We got away with it in the Galen Center.  Tonight, it cost us the game.

Even so, the Bears made it interesting down the stretch.  Despite using a cobbled-together lineup of Murray, Powers, Carter, Kamp, and MSF, they got it down to a one possession game.  Would you believe back to back threes from...MSF?  Had a blatant push where Vucevic leveled Kamp actually been called...Well, it wouldn't have been a Cal game.  Alas.

The Good:  It was a really nice team effort on both ends to cut the lead to one. (twice) Although he had some rough moments on offense, and some growing pains on defense, Jeff Powers stayed aggressive and showed that he's more than just a spot-up shooter.  After getting worked in the 1st half, Kamp/MSF bounced back with strong efforts in the 2nd.

The Bad:  We missed Crabbe's contributions on the boards and on defense almost as much as his offense.  Our backups are doing what they can, but they still have a long way to go.  Although it's clear that we're best when our starters are on the floor, you wonder if giving the younger guys more time earlier in the year might have made a difference now.  

The Ugly:  We let ourselves get microwaved by a 5'7 freshman.  I know we were playing backups, but you'd hope that our defense would be more consistent by this point in the season.  It would be really nice for us to play with poise and controlled urgency before falling behind by double digits.  Kamp and Jorge both looked a little nicked up.

Final Thoughts:  Although it was surprising how ragged we looked at times, the final result isn't overly surprising.  With Crabbe unavailable, having Kamp and MSF handcuffed by foul trouble for most of the game while Jorge struggled with his shooting is a recipe for disaster.  Throw in some uneven play from our young players, particularly on defense, and now it's a formula for an epic disaster.  The fact that the guys kept battling back to make it a contest is really a testament to this team's collective will.  You know the nice thing about young players?  They don't stay young forever.  Time to learn from this one and move on.  We have some unfinished business with the Bruins.  Go Bears!