First things first: When you have a chance, be sure to read the latest Bear Share interview by Viet Nguyen, this time featuring Brittany Boyd.
I don't really know how to handle this feeling. Cal women's basketball is having a legit losing streak.
Seriously, we're kinda in uncharted territory here. In the last two years, the Bears have only lost consecutive games three times. It didn't happen once in the Final Four year. Last year, Cal lost to George Washington, then Duke. They lost two straight to Stanford in mid-season. Later in the year, they lost to Washington to end the regular season, then Washington State in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament.
Those were all pretty explicable. The first two losing streaks included defeats to top 10 teams. The last losing streak included an intentional rest day for Brittany Boyd because the game against Washington wasn't super important in the larger context.
This time Cal has lost two in a row to unranked teams. Granted, both were on the road against decent if not amazing opposition. Granted, both had extenuating circumstances with injuries, foul trouble, and ejections. Still, it's a feeling we are not used to.
What I'm going to try to do is help fans feel better about what happened last weekend. I didn't even want to write about the game at the time, because it was a painful loss, and because there were things going on that transcended wins and losses. With some time to reflect, I'm trying to maintain optimism. Reasons to not overly worry:
1. Reshanda Gray will play 30+ minutes the vast majority of the time
The last two games have been absolute nightmares for Reshanda Gray for reasons mostly out of her control. Against Kansas she picked up 4 fouls in like 9 minutes of court time, and at least three calls were questionable at best. Against Long Beach State she was ejected. Those types of things are rare.
Regarding the ejection itself: I combed through the NCAA rule book (for the 2nd time in the last two weeks! Hooray for constant controversial reffing decisions!) and could find surprisingly little definitions for flagrant fouls. A flagrant 2 foul is defined as 'contact with an opponent that is not only excessive, but also severe or extreme.' There are specific sections on elbows, and specific sections on fighting, but as best I can tell nothing on stomps (or accidentally stepping on somebody, if you prefer).
I will admit that I am operating with a lack of information, but if the sole determining factor was the video replay, then it is still unclear to me how the refs determined that Reshanda Gray intentionally stepped on the Long Beach St. player, as opposed to accidentally stepping on her. Regardless, I think we can all agree that the more judgment calls refs have to make, the more frustrated everybody will be.
2. Cal will rarely shoot that poorly again
We all know that Cal is not a great shooting team. But the Bears won't go 0-10 from 3 point land a ton either. If Courtney Range can come back healthy, Cal should be merely below average from 3 rather than abjectly bad like they looked against LBSU.
3. The defense was pretty good
Cal lost basically because they turned the ball over a billion times. But on defense they forced a ton of bad shots, generally cleaned up the glass, and forced a decent number of turnovers themselves. Doing that despite 63% of available minutes going to underclass players is solid. LBSU only managed .65 points/possession, the lowest Cal has allowed all year. It should have been enough for the win.
4. K.C Waters looked good!
Somebody has to step up for Cal inside with Courtney Range hurt, and that somebody might be KC Waters. The little-used sophomore stepped up in the 2nd half and overtime with 16 minutes of solid interior play that included 5 rebounds, a steal, and block, and zero turnovers.
Here is a player that Cal needs right now: Somebody who can come in, play solid defense, help control the defensive glass, and maybe occasionally provide something on offense without getting in the way or turning the ball over. It was only 18 minutes, but that's what Waters provided against LBSU. She wasn't the reason that Cal overcame a significant halftime deficit to force overtime, but she certainly didn't hurt the effort in any way.
So, there are your reasons for optimism. Still, I can't sugarcoat things: this is a fragile team right now. Kansas provided something of a blueprint - slow Cal down, get Reshanda Gray on the bench, frustrate the Cal offense into a bunch of turnovers and/or bad shots, and prosper. LBSU is nominally a fast pace team, but they deliberately played slow against Cal and hurt the Bears in the process, and essentially followed an identical script, except they couldn't score as much as Kansas did.
Cal can win games in the half court, but only when Reshanda Gray is on the floor. Even then, it's a harder task. I think Cal has shown occasional flashes of the type of team they can become once their freshmen become fully acclimated to college basketball. But those flashes have typically come against weaker teams. Needless to say, Louisville will be a very, very tall order that might be beyond this team without Courtney Range.
We'll have an early preview of Louisville up, and I hope that if you are anywhere near the Bay Area you plan on attending and helping Cal get as close as possible to a sell out. A win over a top team like the Cardinals would immediately cure all ills.