I'm going to go out on a limb and declare Cal's win over Seattle the least interesting game of the season. Certainly not the worst game (no win is bad!) and certainly not a game worth fretting over (though many Cal fans will!) but just simply . . . blah.
That's largely because of the opposition. Seattle averages 67 possessions/game, making them the 301st slowest team in the nation. Against a superior opponent, on the road, the Redhawks slowed it down even more, to a mere 63 possessions. Cal won't play a game that slow until they travel to Virginia to visit Tony Bennett.
To make matters worse, Seattle threw a zone at Cal, and the Bears obliged that strategy by having their worst shooting game of the season so far, at least for the first 30 minutes of the game. In front of a not particularly full crowd on a low key Tuesday night, the Bears didn't exactly come out with their hair on fire, and the entire affair kinda felt like a glorified scrimmage. Cuonzo even seemed to be tinkering with lineup options, starting Kam Rooks for the first time and giving Kingsley Okoroh his first significant playing time of the season. This was probably just as much in response to Seattle's personnel with two dudes standing at 6'11'' and 7'3'', but still.
And then, all of a sudden, you start paying attention halfway through the 2nd half and realize that the Bears are losing by 3 points to one of the worst teams on the schedule. That's bad.
Maybe looking up and seeing 41-44 was the kick in the pants Cal needed. From that point on, defensive intensity and effort rose considerably and the Bears cruised on a 25-8 run over the final 9:30 of the contest.
There's not a ton to takeaway from this game. Seattle is maybe the least athletic team Cal will face, and you can see it in the number of fouls committed (Seattle +11 despite playing only zone) and rebounds (Cal +14 despite consistent Seattle mugging on the glass). And those counting stat disparities came in a very slow paced game!
Why was it even close? Because for 30 minutes Cal couldn't shoot the ball. Cal was 15-43 (35%) from the field, 4-18 (22%) from behind the arc and just a hair over 50% from the line when they trailed 44-41. When you shoot that abjectly from all areas you're lucky to be in the game, even against teams like Seattle.
It was the Cal defense that ended up being the driving force over the last 10 minutes. The Bears only gave up 8 more points, but two of them came from the line and another 2 came in the final minute against indifferent defense. Cal really only gave up two meaningful field goals once crunch time started. There were six emphatic blocks, and those blocks plus good rebounding allowed the Bears to get out in transition a little bit. In the end i was enough for a comfortable, if ugly, win.
- There will likely be gnashing of teeth because Cal was held to their 2nd lowest offensive efficiency of the season by a low level team playing a zone. For whatever it's worth, I thought Cal's effort against Seattle's zone was much better than their effort against East Carolina's zone, although the Pirates played a better zone than the Redhawks. This was mostly about simple bad shooting - at one point in the first half Cal took six three pointers in the space of four minutes, all varying between solid looks to blatantly wide open. All of them missed. And this wasn't combined to just 3 pointers - Jaylen Brown and Ty Wallace both struggled with looks that were reasonable and will likely start falling at some point. What are you gonna do, other than shrug your shoulders and hope that we're getting the misses out of the way against Seattle?
- Defensively, the Bears were mostly able to force Seattle to take the types of shots they would prefer. Sure, there were some on-ball breakdowns, and a few frustrating weak side rebounds. But as Reef pointed out, we held a team below their average offensive efficiency! Party time!
- Tyrone Wallace had himself a busy, busy game - 17 points, 11 boards, 8 assists, 3 blocks, 3 turnovers - his struggles to finish played a part in keeping the game close, but it was his scoring that allowed the Bears to pull away in the end. It's hardly a shock - for the most part, this team will go as Ty goes.
- Rookie report: A low key day for both of Cal's freshmen - Rabb struggled to get the ball in good position against the zone - probably the biggest reason Cal isn't as good against the zone is because it takes Rabb away from where he's most effective. Jaylen Brown really struggled with his finishing, although I would say that he was marginally more in sync with the offense as a whole than the games in Las Vegas.
- Stephen Domingo didn't play a minute, and I haven't seen any particular explanation. It's possible that Coach Martin sees him only as a stretch 4, and Seattle wasn't going to play a lineup that called for that particular specialty. Just a guess.
- It didn't particularly matter, but the refs had a rough go of it, giving Cal a couple of awful charge calls and letting Seattle get away with some pretty blatant loose ball fouls on rebounds. The foul disparity should have been even bigger, and I guess it's not shocking that, subconsciously or otherwise, they wanted to keep the total number of fouls for both teams within shouting distance. Just know that Jaylen Brown will pick up a charge later in the season at a critical juncture, and it will be an awful call, and we will all act surprised and outraged but we should know that it's coming.
- On a brighter note, the Bears played defense without doing much fouling of their own, although Seattle's lack of athleticism and deliberate offense really shouldn't draw many fouls, so I wouldn't make much of it yet.