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Cal 81, Washington 75: Revitalized offense pushes Cal past UW

Every weakness Cal displayed against CSU Bakersfield turned into a strength against Washington as the Bears defended home court against the #21 Huskies.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that was unexpected. Not so much the winning part, but the fashion in which Cal pulled it off.

Remember last week? You know, when David Kravish was passing up open shots, defenders were draping themselves over Jordan Mathews outside the arc, Ty Wallace couldn't hit a free throw, and nobody else was willing or able to step up on offense?

Well, the best/worst thing about college sports is that every day is a new day. David Kravish reasserted himself inside, Jordan Mathews went nuts from everywhere, Tyrone Wallace iced the game from the line repeatedly, and Cal got unexpected contributions from the bench in a thoroughly satisfying win over Washington.

And perhaps most surprisingly, it was Cal's offense that earned the win more than defense. Cal's attack scored 1.1 points/possession with solid shooting, decent offensive rebounding, and a near complete lack of turnovers. This isn't to say that Cal's defense was bad - they did a solid job against a team that could have been a bad match-up - but UW's defense has been really good, particularly in the paint. If Cal couldn't put up points against CSUB, how were they going to do it against a team with elite rim protection like Washington?

For 20 minutes, the game probably went more or less how we all expected it to go. To put things simply: Robert Upshaw dominated the game. He had four blocks and altered a bunch of other shots. Cal's usual go-to offensive option, Ty Wallace drives, wasn't working. Lack of effort wasn't an issue, but a general lack of decisiveness held the Bears back. The half finished with Cal down, 32-27.

Then Cal scored 54 second half points.

Granted, 15 of Cal's final 17 points were from the line, because Washington decided to play hack-a-Ty for the last three minutes of the game. Even then, Cal's offense was vastly more efficient, which is how they built a lead big enough to force Washington into desperation fouling. Wallace hit ten free throws in a row because lol Lorenzo Romar.

What changed? Well, for one thing, it was nice to go up against a coach who evidently didn't game plan to take away some of the key things that Cal tries to do on offense. True, Washington WAS able to shut down Ty Wallace's dribble-drive game. However, that was less a function of defensive game-planning, and more a function of having shot-blocking monster in Robert Upshaw. On the other hand, they weren't able to take away things that everybody else has been able to take away. For just one example: Jordan Mathews entered the game averaging just over 4 three point attempts a game. Washington decided to play mostly zone defense, and Mathews went 5-8 from behind the arc.

But while the Washington defense tended to give Cal the shots they wanted more than some other defenses, just as much credit needs to go to Cuonzo Martin and Cal's players for rededicating themselves to what they want to accomplish. True, previous opponents made it hard for Mathews and Kravish to get the looks they want. But at some point, both players just needed to be more assertive and call their own number.

They did just that. combining for 52 points on 30 shots. Mathews showed a much more diverse game, seeking contact and showing off a solid step back floater. Kravish was much more active on the glass, and scored 21 points despite staying cold on mid-range jumpers. Since Jabari Bird went down with an injury Cal fans have been calling for that type of performance from both players, knowing they were capable of doing exactly what they did to Washington.

This would be a satisfying win no matter the context. But these players, winning like that, after what happened last week? That's sublime.

Other thoughts:

  • Roger Moute a Bidias: long term solution? He's been averaging about 10 minutes/game against legit competition, then suddenly played 20 minutes including crunch time against the Huskies. Why? Across the board improvement. Moute a Bidias has always been a solid defender, but if the UW game is a fair indication, he's taken it to the next level. He chased Nigel Williams-Goss all over the court, and in the 2nd half Williams-Goss only had one field goal and two assists in the half court set before garbage time. Most of the credit for that goes to Moute a Bidias.

    So we know that Moute a Bidias can be a good defender (maybe even great!) in Cuonzo's system. But until very recently he was a virtual non-entity on offense. I'm willing to sacrifice offense for defense, but this case was a little extreme. But lately he's shown some surprising ability as a slasher, and he hasn't been turning over the ball often enough to really hurt. At the very least he's a potent weapon to send at a guard that nobody else on the roster can slow down.
  • Does Roger Moute a Bidias have a nickname? If not, he needs one, because I'm way too lazy to keep tying out 'Moute a Bidias' but I'm not a fan of using initials either.
  • Moute a Bidias did make one mistake, unnecessarily contesting a late Washington shot and conceeding an and-1. It didn't have any particular impact on the final result, but did lead to a spectacular Cuonzo Martin death stare:
  • Kingsley Okoroh stepped up with 17 minutes off the bench when Christian Behrens got in foul trouble, and the King mostly held his own against one of the most imposing front lines in the conference. If nothing else, he was active and refused to let Jarreau, Kemp and Upshaw push him around. Twice he keyed Cal run-outs with blocks or tipped balls intelligently hit towards a guard.
  • Sam Singer played 23 minutes and did not attempt a shot. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Is this a sustainable win for the Bears in conference play? Absolutely. Sure, Jordan Mathews won't be scoring 30+ every other day. But very few teams (pretty much just Arizona and Utah, really) will be able to slow down Tyrone Wallace like that. And David Kravish can do what he did against UW to pretty much anybody. And Cal didn't even start playing close to their ceiling until the 2nd half anyway.

The Bears have now defended their home court against a team that has the talent (but perhaps not the game-planning) to present serious mismatch issues. Any time you can beat a conference foe with a tournament at-large resume in a coin-flip game, it's worth savoring.

Wazzu's up next, which means that a home sweep is on the table. Boy am I feeling better than last week.