I guess we can start with the good news. Jordan Mathews has been showing up bigtime. He had another huge scoring game, showing utter fearlessness and a lot of fire, providing the only spark the Bears showed today. He shot 8-14, 6-9 3p, ended the game with 23 points, and was the only Golden Bear who looked like he wanted to come to Pauley Pavillion this afternoon.
The rest, unfortunately, is bad news:
Any other offense was non-existent. The rest of the team combined for 31 points on 34% shooting. David Kravish again struggled to make anything, going 4-13 from the floor. Ty Wallace continues his mini-slump, coming up with only 4 points on 9 shots. David is getting good looks and missing them. Tyrone is not able to breathe -- as soon as he gets within 10 feet of the basket there are two or three defenders there to greet him. The rest of the team wants nothing to do with shooting the basketball. Final numbers of ugliness: .85 points per possession against a merely average defensive team. 16 turnovers. (Oh, by the way, UCLA is one of the worst teams in the nation at forcing turnovers.)
UCLA came in scoring .99 points per possession, and the Cal defense allowed 1.15 today. With the Bruins only shooting 50% from the line. Oy vey. Until the Washington game, Cal had held every single team they played to under their season efficiency. Every opponent in conference play has performed better than their season average. Some of that is due to teams figuring out that Cal is overplaying the middle, and ball reversal, and working schemes to actually free up shots on the wing and baseline. Some of this is due to everyone believing (probably correctly) that they have an advantage when they enter the post against the Bears. But make no mistake, the heart of this is not schematic. If you pride yourself on defense and you give up .15 more than your opponent averages, no matter what the Xs and Os say, you're just not trying hard enough.
Cal got destroyed on the glass. UCLA is a decent offensive rebounding team, but they're not elite. They rebound about 32% of their missed shots, and today they got to 42% of them. Entering the conference, Cal was one of the elite defensive rebounding teams in the nation. Entering today's game they were in the top five in the country. So getting owned like that indicates a team that simply isn't trying hard enough.
Jabari Bird returned from injury. He played 8 minutes. He was active, getting to his usual spots on the floor. But he shots three times, forced up a few, went 0-3, then left the game with an apparent cramp. There's no word on his health at the time of this writing, but it does not necessarily appear Cal will have their starting wing at full strength for at least a few more games.
Before the season opened, Cuonzo Martin said the following: "Well I think the key for us is to just play hard and compete, to play with a level of effort and energy. I think that's our main focus as a team, it doesn't matter who we're playing against. We always try to approach it the same way. A couple things we talk about as a team -- we always have to have passion when we play, we have to play together." The question I think it's fair to ask at this point is whether team and coach are living up to that commitment. The offense is limited. It is going to continue to be limited without Jabari and it probably will not be great when and if he returns. But who is responsible for those defensive, rebounding, and turnover numbers? Are we so much worse than the rest of UCLA's competition this year that we should be playing 15% worse defense and giving up 10% more offensive rebounds? Are we getting to our share of loose balls? Are we seeing an intensity level that we are proud to watch and be associated with?
As you have probably surmised from that litany of bad news, Cal returns from their first conference road trip without a win. Coach Martin shook up the starting lineup by inserting Kingsley Okoroh and Roger Moute a Bidias for Christian Behrens and Sam Singer. Surprisingly, this resulted in Cal getting off to a hot shooting start, opening 4-6 and holding a 9-6 lead at the first TV timeout. The euphoria was short lived however, as Norman Powell and Isaac Hamilton got any shot they wanted by taking what the Cal defense was offering on the wing. A Cal run at the end of the half cut what was a 9 point deficit to 5, but in the second half Steve Alford kept feeding his cold bigs, and they heated up. The lead quickly got out of control, and the eventual 19 point margin of victory accurately represented how each team played. Final score: UCLA 73 - Cal 54.
Okoroh and Moute a Bidias both played half the game, and were among the Bears' stronger defenders. Juggling them into the lineup is difficult, however, because they create such a large gap in the offense. With Okoroh, however, there is hope, as he occasionally flashes a good post move and court awareness. He may continue to get increasing minutes over an overmatched Christian Behrens.
This week Cal opens a three game homestand against stanfurd, ASU, and Arizona. They look like a very different club than the one that left for winter break, and not even the lone conference win is much consolation, as the fighting Romars are still seeking their first victory in the Pac-12. What has happened, and does this club have it in them to bounce back, or are we doomed to watching one of the worst conference seasons in recent memory? Stay tuned to find out.