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Cal 89, SHSU 63: Stiffer Tests Await

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You will forgive us if we look ahead: The Bears have passed their preliminary exams with flying colors, but the real work starts on turkey day.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

It's my job in this space to relate to you what happened in the previous game, so let's get that part over with, because we have more interesting things to ponder than a very routine win.

Cal won by a lot! And it was very fun to watch. If you head to the play-by-play for last night's game and search for the word 'dunk' you will find six uses of the word on Cal's side of the ledger, and they were all very much fun. If you didn't watch, then you missed cool stuff like this:

Or this!

As you can tell, the Bears got out in transition a little, and boy did they look good doing it. For the first 13 or 14 minutes, the Bearkats hung around and trailed by just 3 points. But the offense finally turned it on and the Bears never looked back. The score from that point forward? 59-28, at which point Cuonzo pulled his starters and the Bears closed it out the rest of the way.

There's not a ton to take away from this game, because the physical gap between these two teams was massive, maybe the biggest we will see all season long. At a certain point the Bears realized that they could get to the paint any time they wanted and pull down offensive boards when shots didn't fall, and the offense took off as a result.

Last year, Sam Houston State was the 2nd best team in the 29th best conference in the country, but they were down all five starters from last year's team, which is a short hand way of saying that this game was a walkover. And, minor struggles against East Carolina aside, that's four walkovers so far this year.  Credit to the Bears for taking care of business against the weakest stretch of the schedule.

That all changes Thanksgiving Night in Las Vegas, when the Bears meet San Diego State and the schedule strength ramps up considerably.

Random Thoughts

  • Jaylen Brown played his best game of the season, just by pulling back a little bit. The main criticism of his game so far is a tendency to hold onto the ball and try to make too much happen one on one. In Cal's first three games his usage percentage was sky-high, somewhere north of 40%. Against SHSU it was a more reasonable 27%, and he had four assists including a couple of great looks in transition. His only turnover was on the only play where he kept the ball too long; it was early in the game and never really happened again.

    Oh yeah, and he still draws a crazy amount of fouls. That's how you score 18 points on 6 made shots without hitting a three pointer.
  • Ivan Rabb had a quiet offensive game (and settled for a few too many mid-range turnarounds/jumpers for my tastes) but impressed again with his defense. Three more blocks, and most importantly just a single foul. His most impressive block was when his defender tried to get him in the air, but Rabb stayed rooted and vertical and simply made the play with his superior wing span. 1 or 2 games ago he would have fouled. Every game I've seen him do something better than the previous game.
  • Ty Wallace did exactly what you would expect him to do against an inferior opponent, but I want to mention it anyway because it's bad to take what he does for granted.
  • Offensively, I suspect that the difference between Cal having a good offense and a great offense is the night-in, night-out contributions from Jabari Bird, both as a slasher and a shooter. The former has been exactly what Cal needs, but the latter has been off to start the season, but that's not likely to continue.
  • Brandon Chauca came in, which obviously means he's not redshirting.
Most of the thoughts above are offensive thoughts because they can be broken down a bit more discretely. Let's talk a little about defense, which has been a bit more of a work in progress.

First the good: Cal has been generally good at preventing 2nd chance opportunities, and that will likely continue all year long. I think they've generally been getting better each game about guarding without fouling, although the level of physical dominance they had over SHSU might be misleading on that account.

Not surprisingly, Cal's defensive success will come down to their field goal defense, which has been OK but not amazing. For a weaker team, SHSU got open looks inside and from deep more than I'd prefer, and it mostly comes down to how we guard on the perimeter, and how we deal with motion and screens. There were certainly stretches of the game when we fought hard through screens and blew up whatever SHSU was trying to do (which typically led to a run out on either a brick or a turnover) but there were times when SHSU could pretty comfortably execute their sets and get OK looks. Those missed often enough because SHSU isn't a great shooting team, but it's something for the Bears to work on.

How much of this is a youngish team learning to play defense both individually and as a team? I'm not sure. I'm confident enough in Cal's pure athleticism and interior defense (Rabb!) to say that few teams will truly shred us, but Cal has yet to put together a truly impressive, dominating defensive performance yet either. Luckily we've been putting up roughly 1.22 points/possession, so it hasn't much mattered.

So, are we ready for the San Diego States of the world? I don't know. Like I referenced above, I think this team has a pretty high floor just based purely on talent across the board. But what happens when we face a team with both the discipline and the athleticism to not give up a parade of free throws and lobs? That might be what the Bears will face against the Aztecs. I'm damned excited to find out.