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Kansas 62, Cal 39: Range injured, Bears fall

All of Cal's weaknesses were exposed in a humbling defeat, and injury concerns will follow the Bears back home.

Best wishes to Courtney Range for a speedy recover.
Best wishes to Courtney Range for a speedy recover.

Before the season began, there were two major concerns about the 2014-15 Bears:

1. Would they be able to shoot well enough to win?
2. Would they have enough depth to win?

So far, neither potential weakness hurt the Bears, perhaps because the schedule hasn't been very tough so far. Sure, there were warning signs. Foul trouble hampered Cal against Hawaii. Poor shooting kept Missouri in the game. But in both games, the Bears overcame to win.

Not against Kansas. Reshanda Gray and Brittany Boyd were both mired in constant foul trouble, nobody shot the ball well, and every problem snowballed to the point that the game was basically decided early in the 2nd half when Reshanda Gray picked up her 4th foul.

Here is a simple reality: At this point in the season, Cal cannot beat good teams without Reshanda Gray and Brittany Boyd on the court, playing significant minutes without the specter of foul trouble looming over their shoulder. The roster is simply too short and too inexperienced to cover without their senior stars. A HUGE portion of Cal's offense is built around getting the ball to Reshanda Gray, and Cal doesn't have another player on the roster who can play that role in quite the same way. Without her, it's much easier for opposing defenses to limit Cal's other offensive options, and the offense tends to struggle in the half court.

Gray ended up playing just 21 minutes (and still nearly led Cal in scoring!) and every other player on the roster combined for 19% shooting. The obvious solution to Cal's offensive woes with Gray on the bench would have been to push tempo and get out in transition. Unfortunately, it's much easier for teams like Kansas to slow the game down than it is for teams like Cal to speed the game up. And since Cal only has 10 players (some of which rarely play) it's very difficult for Cal to press without risking exhausting the lineup or creating major foul trouble issues for everybody else.

And now, Cal's lack of depth may very well be even more sorely tested. With just a few minutes remaining, Cal was pressing on defense. Courtney Range went up to grab a ball in the air, and came down on another player's leg. Her ankle rolled badly on the way down, and she immediately grabbed her leg in immense pain. There has been no official diagnosis, so all we can do now is hope for good news. Whenever a player has to be carried off the court, concern is inevitable.

Assorted thoughts:Reffing: So, let's dive into this. I didn't want to lead off with ref complaining, because it always sounds petty, even when it's accurate. But this game was a zebra disaster. Three particular calls stand out:Brittany Boyd's 2nd foul, Reshanda Gray's 2nd foul, and Reshanda Gray's 3rd foul. All three were awful, awful calls, and they killed whatever chance Cal had of winning the game. Let's discuss each, one by one:

  • Boyd's 2nd foul was essentially the platonic ideal of a block. Boyd drove by her defender towards the middle of the paint, and a help defender undercut her just as she released a perfect pass to Gray. The help defender was woefully late and completely unset. It was the single worst call of the game, and it meant that Boyd couldn't play her usually disruptive perimeter defense for the rest of the 1st half for fear of picking up her 3rd foul. Not coincidentally, Kansas went on a big run.
  • Gray's 2nd foul was also a charge. She was backing down a Kansas defender in the post, and turned her shoulder to one side. The Kansas defender leaned her body into the path of where Gray was going, and the ref made the wrong call. This is the type of call that I've seen get  blown CONSTANTLY against Gray, because she's so big and so strong. When she runs into somebody, the sheer violence of the collision seems to fool the refs into making the wrong call.
  • Gray's 3rd foul came early in the second half, when a Kansas player drove around her on the baseline. Reshanda was literally moving with her with her arms straight in the air, without really contesting the drive or trying to disrupt the shot. Why? BECAUSE SHE HAD TWO FOULS AND KNEW SHE COULDN'T AFFORD ANOTHER FOUL!!! Gray was playing the best matador defense she could play to ensure she stayed on the court and they still called a foul against her.
Gray would pick up her 4th foul on another questionable (although slightly more explicable) foul a few minutes later, and the game was over. Cal has a conundrum, for two reasons. Firstly, both Gray and Boyd thrive on physical, attacking basketball on both ends. Secondly, women's basketball refs just aren't very good. There isn't a solution to this conundrum, by the way. If Gray or Boyd significantly change how they play, they won't be the same elite players. We just have to hope that they get a little more senior deference and less awful calls go against them.

Other scattered thoughts:
  • Brittany Boyd rightly is getting praise for her reaction to Courtney Range's injury - check out this nice blog post from WBB writer Matthew Snyder, which pretty much says it all.
  • Cal's defense wasn't amazing, but it wasn't really the problem. That said, the 3-2 zone that Cal has used extensively this year has obvious weak spots in the corner, and multiple teams have exploited that weakness. Kansas' entire offense was basically 3 pointers and free throws. Cal couldn't do a ton to prevent the free throws, but they could have done more to prevent the threes.
  • Mikayla Cowling played 19 minutes and didn't significantly impact the game, probably because she isn't fully recovered from whatever injury had her in a boot last week. If she is still limited, and if Range is out, Cal will be very, very thin up and down the roster for a little bit.
  • I thought Justine Hartman had some pretty solid minutes subbing for Reshanda Gray, and her defense looks better that I've ever seen it. There will still be games where her skill set won't be a good match-up for a particular opponent, but against teams that like to slow it down she can be an impact bench player.
  • The rebound deficit was a little deceptive because Cal missed so many shots, but the Bears were outrebounded by a non-good rebounding team pretty decisively. Concerning.
This team might be the toughest coaching challenge Lindsay Gottlieb has faced in her four years at Cal. She has a team with really strong strengths and really obvious weaknesses, and her job will be to find ways to maximize those strengths while papering over those weaknesses. The schedule is getting tougher - Cal's next four opponents have a combined record of 20-4 - so time is limited. Hopefully Cal never faces this type of confluence of cold shooting, bad reffing, and excellent opponent game-planning at the same time.

I'm of the opinion that this team is too talented not to bounce back.