So how do we evaluate this team? Prior to the beginning of the season a 24 point loss in Palo Alto would not have been considered a successful performance, even if the deficit was kept at 10 points or less for the majority of the game. But clearly, times have changed for this team. A 33 point blowout to Stanford in Berkeley and a six game losing streak have altered our perceptions to the point that Thursday’s performance on the road actually came off as a gritty, respectable performance – at least for 30 minutes. It’s unclear to me if the Bears gave in to Stanford down the stretch out of despair as the game slipped away, or out of sheer exhaustion after playing so many high intensity minutes. Either way, I can’t wait to have a 10+ player rotation next year.
Knowing that winning or losing is academic at this point in the year, I wanted to see the Bears play like they weren’t afraid of Stanford, and I think by and large they did. I saw an impressive confidence in the shooting of Rachelle Federico and Lindsay Sherbert and the attacking penetration of Layshia Clarendon. Talia Caldwell didn’t play like she was intimidated by the Ogwumike sisters, grabbing 8 total rebounds and playing a physical style of defense we haven’t seen at Cal since Devanei Hampton graduated.
On the other hand, DeNesha Stallworth still hasn’t learned how to score effectively with the entire defense focused on stopping her. Admittedly, that’s a trait that is really rare – Stanford has a long history of shutting down Cal’s best scoring threat. They did it to Ashley Walker in 2009, they did it to Alexis Gray-Lawson in 2010, and they really did it to DeNesha this year – she scored just two points and only attempted five shots in both games combined. On the bright side, Cal’s guards stepped up in the first half in a way they generally haven’t most of the year. But until the Bears can get the entire team playing well at one time they won’t be able to compete with teams like Stanford.
What does this game mean for next year? Probably not a ton. It does show how good our offense can look when we’re hitting shots. Sherbert and Mooch both hit a few early 3’s and that seemed to open up a little space for Layshia to drive with, and she hit a few pull-up jumpers. Cal’s offense looks so much better when they hit early 3’s, like they did at home against Arizona St. and USC. With Sherbert, Mikayla Lyles and Afure Jemerigbe potentially average to above-average shooters, the Bears might have the ability to play like they did in the first half more often than not. But it will take an off-season full of shooting practice at the gym to realize that ideal.
Pac-10 Tournament Preview
Before I get into Cal’s Wednesday night matchup with Washington, let me say this: I hate the new Pac-10 tournament format. It’s a joke. And I say that knowing full well that the Bears would have benefitted greatly from the format just two years ago. But the level of advantage it gives to the top two teams in the league is absurd. If you are Arizona, you know that maybe the only way to secure a tournament spot is with season-defining win over Stanford. To do that you just need to beat an Oregon team that will run up and down the court endlessly for 40 minutes, then probably beat another up-tempo team in USC, and then play a fully-rested Stanford team in your 3rd game in 3 days? That’s insane. With the current format, they should just give every team a week off and let Stanford and UCLA play in the championship game straight away.
Now, this year it kinda makes sense, in that Stanford and UCLA have dominated to the point that you can argue that they have earned a double bye. But it won’t be long when we face some kind of scenario where, say, UCLA and Arizona St. tie for second in the conference and split the head-to-head matchup, and some goofy tie-breaker will decide that one team gets to sit and rest for a week while the other team has to play two more games. Maybe this format makes sense for a league that only expects one NCAA bid each year, so as to protect the regular season champion. But the Pac-10 doesn’t need to do that. Go back to the old format, please.
Okay, with that rant out of the way, let’s sum up Cal’s goal in the conference tournament: REVENGE! The Bears begin by facing one of the teams that conspired to ruin their season in Washington. Should they finally end the hex that state has on them they will likely advance to play the same Arizona St. team that sent their season into a tailspin with a buzzer-beating 3 pointer. I don’t think anybody is entertaining the idea that Cal will somehow resurrect their season with a four-wins-in-four-days run, but I’m sure the team and the fan base would get a great deal of personal satisfaction in beating the Huskies and Sun Devils.
Cal's opening round matchup is scheduled to start at 7:15 p.m. PST (assuming none of the early games go long) on Wednesday, and will be available via stream on youtube. Should the Bears advance, they will play Arizona St. or Oregon St. at 3:00 p.m. PST on Thursday - a potential men's and women's Los Angeles double-header! CGB will have you covered for open threads, so break out the gazpacho and remember that revenge is a dish best served cold.