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WBB Review: LA sweeps are awesome!

The Bears are set up for the conference stretch run, with plenty of opportunities left to earn statement wins

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Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Hey everybody! It's been too long since I did any WBB writing, so I went overboard this week. The stretch run of the regular season is here!

UCLA/USC review

Things that were awesome about Cal's L.A. sweep:

  • · Field goal defense: UCLA and USC combined to shoot 32.5% from the field. Cal has the #2 field goal defense in conference right now.
  • · Balanced scoring: Six different players totaled 16 points or more over both games. Having so many weapons work at once allowed Cal to average more than a point/possession against both teams.
  • Enough shooting to keep teams honest: Cal shot 9-21 from 3 point land over both games. And while Cal doesn't have one player who terrifies teams with their shooting ability, the Bears do have five players (Boyd, Range, Davidson, Green and Cowling) who have hit enough 3 pointers to force teams to play them honest on defense.
  • 24 total steals: Cal doesn't force a ton of turnovers, but when they do, they tend to be the type of turnovers that fuel transition basketball. Six+ feet of wingspan = fun!
  • An acceptable amount of fouls: 16 team fouls in both games isn't amazing, but for this team it's good enough. Nobody had their minutes restricted by fouls, which is all I can ask for.
  • Two point shooting: We all complain about Cal's iffy outside shooting, because it's an ingredient that would move Cal from good to great. But let's appreciate what the Bears do right on offense: 2nd in the Pac-12 and 12th in the nation in 2 point shooting percentage at 50.2%
  • Brittany Boyd flying into the scorer's table, getting her foot/shoe stuck under the video display board, and the ref pulling her shoe out just in time for her to stand up and stagger down the court for a layup thanks to a Mercedes Jefflo 4-on-5 steal.

Things that weren't quite as awesome:

  • Rebounding: Cal was outrebounded in both games, and has now been outrebounded in four straight Pac-12 games. Getting beaten on the boards by Arizona State isn't necessarily surprising, but getting outrebounded by UCLA at all, and getting outrebounded by USC by a huge margin is concerning.

    Announcers still talk about Cal as if Talia Caldwell and Gennifer Brandon were still on the roster, but this is clearly a different team (our point guard is leading the team in rebounds!). Cal wasn't a great rebounding team a few years ago because of scheme - they were great because they had gifted rebounders on both sides of the court. Reshanda Gray isn't a brilliant rebounder for her size, and Cal plays with lots of guards who are tall, but can be muscled away in block-out.

    Still, there is enough size on the roster to do better. Getting Courtney Range playing confidently over 25+ minutes would be a good start.

Thus it was decided: The awesome outweighs the non-awesome!

Reshanda Gray and fouling

Good news: Reshanda Gray is second in the country in points/minute, and is 2nd in the Pac-12 in field goal percentage. Simply put, she's the most dangerous offensive player in the conference when she's on the court.

Bad news: Reshanda Gray is averaging 25 minutes/game. If she played 30-35 minutes/game, she's a sure-fire first team All-American. So, why isn't she playing more? You all know exactly why. Fouls!

11-12: 5.9 fouls/minute
12-13: 6.3 fouls/minute
13-14: 9.1 fouls/minute
14-15: 7.2 fouls/minute

I recall writing before last year about Reshanda Gray's fouling issues, and speculating that it wouldn't be a huge issue because 1) Her high foul rate as a freshman and sophomore was in part because she only played limited minutes and didn't need to worry about foul trouble and 2) as a veteran, she would learn how to play without fouling, and how to play when in foul trouble.

And sure enough, Reshanda's foul rate as a junior fell to a perfectly reasonable 1 foul per 9 minutes of court time. At that rate she wouldn't foul out until 45 minutes of play, on average. I didn't even bother considering foul trouble as a season long issue for her.

So what exactly has happened? Why has Reshanda's foul rate increased so dramatically as a senior, which is pretty much exactly the opposite of what we might expect?

I can think of three reasons:

1) Teams are blatantly targeting her for foul trouble. Do you remember the Kansas game, when Reshanda picked up 3 first half fouls and didn't ever really play until the game was thoroughly out of hand? Here's a quote after the game:

I knew we had to get Reshanda (Gray) in foul trouble, so I flopped a couple times. - Asia Boyd

This is every team. Teams are targeting Gray on defense, knowing they only need to get a few whistles to ruin Cal's game plan.

2) Reshanda's usage rate is sky high: During her junior year, Reshanda's usage rate (simply: the percentage of offensive possessions that end with a certain player taking a shot, turning the ball over, etc.) was 24%, which is high but not crazy high. This year it is at 31%, which is crazy high for a true post player. It's also 2nd overall in the Pac-12 and the 2nd highest rate among power conference post players. Which is good, but also causes problems because . . .

3) Refs are awful at calling charge/blocks: I don't have a good way of counting, but I feel confident stating that Reshanda picks up lots of offensive fouls. And that's because refs have completely gone back on the rule changes made last year that were supposed to give the benefit of the doubt to the offensive player. Reshanda picks up fouls because she's bigger and stronger than just about any player guarding her, and every single collision results in the other player flying to the ground. But just because the other player went flying doesn't mean that player had position. Reshanda is a victim of the very skillset that makes her special.

I don't have a solution for this problem. Telling Reshanda to play less aggressively on offense would probably remove the qualities that make her so good in the first place. I suppose she could play a little more matador defense, but that has consequences as well. We just have to hope that she avoids unnecessary fouls and that refs start making the right call in charge/block situations.

Bracketology update

In Charlie Creme's latest projection, Cal is listed as an 8 seed, down from a 5 in his previous projections. I suspect the decline is mostly related to Cal's lack of high value wins.

At the moment, Cal has five losses, but none of them are bad defeats - all of them are to RPI top 100 teams. In fact, Cal has a solid 6-5 record vs. the top 100. But of those six wins, only one came against a top 50 team (Washington State, and the Cougars might drop out of the top 50).

So there's an obvious hole in Cal's resume - top flight wins. The good news is that Cal still has at least five games left against the RPI top 50, and possibly as many as eight depending on how the Pac-12 tournament shakes out. Those games are as follows:

vs. Washington (RPI 23)
vs. Washington St. (50)
at ASU (11)
vs. Stanford (27)
at Stanford (27)
at Oregon St. (9)
1-3 hypothetical Pac-12 tournament games

Even better, I would speculate that ASU, OSU, Stanford and Washington will all end the regular season with top 25 RPI ranks. Cal will have ample opportunity to boost their tournament resume. Even going ~.500 against these high value opponents would likely leave Cal on solid footing for March Madness.

The most important games for Cal? Home games, starting this weekend. If Cal can't beat the Washington schools at home, they would then need to pick up value wins in much tougher situations: against top 10 teams, on the road. Tempe, Palo Alto and Corvallis aren't the places you want to go needing wins this year.

Long story short: BEAT THE WASHINGTONS.