Reasonable minds may differ, but for my money UCLA is the 2nd most talented team in the conference. And thus, for the Bears to win on the road, they would need to exert maximum effort and/or be the beneficiaries of a bit of variance. Cal got neither against UCLA, and as a result they fell to 5-2 in conference.
The first 25 minutes of the game was a worst-case-scenario nightmare. When UCLA is going right, or when they face a sub-standard defense, their offense can be truly fearsome. Probably the best in the conference. For as much as we like to joke about the Wears, they're good shooters for their size and as a result UCLA can field lineups with 5 excellent shooters. There can't be any weak links defensively. Cal had more than a few in the first 25 minutes.
Offensively, things were stagnant at best. UCLA utilized a standard zone, and Cal looked befuddled at times, aimlessly passing the ball back and forth around the perimeter with no real idea of what to do. Worse, when UCLA trapped on the sidelines, Cal looked unprepared.
Add it all up, and the Bruins held a seemingly insurmountable 19 point lead.
So credit to Cal for fighting back, which never really happened against USC. Cal cut the deficit all the way down to three twice, but UCLA's offense wasn't going to stay dormant for nearly that long, and sure enough they pulled away late for the 12 point win.
Let's start with the good news
- Jabari Bird had a mini-breakout. His 12 points all came during Cal's run as he woke up the offense. Unfortunately he didn't stay hot, and if a few more of his 3s had gone down there might have been a different result. But IF (and it's a big if) this is a game he can use to catapult himself back into the rotation as a strong scorer, it would be more important than the result of the game itself.
- Jordan Mathews had a confident game, finishing as Cal's leading scorer and contributing excellently on the glass.
- Richard Solomon had a typical Richard Solomon game.
- Cal needed more from Richard Solomon than a typical game.
- Justin Cobbs was off (40% shooting and 1 assist?) and Cal isn't going to win many games when they're not getting good Justin Cobbs
- Cal got next to nothing from both David Kravish and Tyrone Wallace, who both had weekends they would prefer to completely forget. Wallace just hasn't had his shot going all weekend, and needs to go back and watch footage of himself slashing through Washington's defense to remind himself what he's best at. Kravish . . . has he scored on anything but put-backs lately? It's so weird, because Kravish has been Mr. consistent for 2.5 years. I frankly can't recall him having games like this since his freshman year. It's just bizarre.
- We were beaten by the Wear twins and Bryce Alford.
AGONIZING CHART OF DEFEAT
Now, despite everything I've said so far, remember that Cal was 'only' down seven when the fouling game began and UCLA hit a bunch of free throws to extend their end-of-game lead.
Cal went 4-21 from three. Imagine if Jabari Bird had gone 2-7 and Tyrone Wallace went 1-5. That's not some kind of crazy thing, right? If they had, the game would've been virtually tied and anything could have happened in the final minutes. That's not to say that Cal deserved to win, or that the Bears were unlucky, or that this result is unfair. What it means is that pretty much every game is subject to the same vicissitudes of fate. Cal shot the ball really well on their Oregon trip, and they came out with a sweep. Cal shot the ball really poorly and got swept in L.A. The good news is that it's a flaw that is imminently correctable.
But what really needs to happen is defensive improvement. You win games when you're not shooting well by defending really, really well. Just ask Arizona, because they have the best damned defense in college basketball. That defense allowed them to beat Utah by double digits despite a completely pedestrian offensive effort.
I don't think Cal will ever play defense as good as Arizona can play defense. But Cal certainly can play better defense than they showed this weekend. If they had, they're probably coming home with a split rather than a sweep.