It was a day of transitions for the Cal Men's Basketball program. David Kravish came to the program four years ago as a scrawny, little-known two-star forward from Lee's Summit, Missouri. He ended his Cal regular season home career today as the school's all-time leading shot blocker, to go with top five all time in rebounds, 1200 career points, and 117 straight starts. He was joined for Senior Day festivities by Christian Behrens, who with one year of eligibility remaining may be exploring other opportunities after receiving his Cal degree in May, and Dwight Tarwater, a graduate transfer. Also in the house were Mike Montgomery, who recruited Kravish and coached him for three years, and Greg Gottleib, Montgomery's assistant.
Meanwhile, a few feet away from Montgomery's seat on the baseline stood Cuonzo Martin, the custodian of Cal basketball's future, and hovering above him was the tantalizing promise of what the future might hold. McDonald's All-Americans Ivan Rabb and Caleb Swanigan huddled with human highlight reel Davon Dillard in seats right behind the Cal bench, wrapping up their weekend official visits. When Kravish passed to Sam Singer for a nice cut and layup at the end of the game, the announcers talked about a passing of the torch. I wanted them to slowly pan to the first row behind the Cal bench, to really drive that point home. In the end, those very important guests saw Cal take control of the second half with an 18-0 run to cruise to a 73-56 victory that allowed the home crowd to focus on the tremendous contributions of Kravish and company.
Oregon State plays a stifling match-up zone that is unlike anything else in the conference, and that has elevated their defense to elite status. It is easily top 20 in the country, and almost as good as Arizona's and Utah's. However, the Beavers are horrific offensively, which explains their mediocre record. For a large part of the game, only one of those things was true. We're Cal fans, so we all know which one. While playing their usually tough defense, OSU was having a very good offensive day by their standards. Led by 35% shooter Malcolm Duvivier's torrid 13 point first half, OSU shot 40%+ for much of the contest, on 6-12 from behind the arc, while holding Cal to under 35% shooting. When Cuonzo Martin called a timeout at the 14:14 mark of the second half, the Bears were in an 8 point hole and I was wondering whether Sam Singer will have to play power forward next year.
Then, our good friend regression happened or, as I prefer to call it, Cal magic. OSU stopped making shots, and Cal started imposing their will on the game. The Bears are more athletic than the Beavers, and better shotmakers. The way to exploit that is to get early offense and to relentlessly attack the rim. We have talked in this space all year about the most efficient shots in basketball: drives, post-ups, and open threes. Coming out of the 14:14 timeout Cal used all three to bury the Beavers under a barrage of points -- yes, points -- and when the run was over the score was 60-46 Cal, Haas was rocking and rolling for good friends old and new, and the game was effectively over.
Help from Our New Friends
I spent much of the game trying to watch it through the eyes of a high school big. A few things jumped out at me:
Defense: There was a moment midway through the first half when Jarmal Reid muscled right through Kravish to get to the rim for an easy bucket. Reid is hardly in the upper tier of Pac-12 bigs. Granted, he had a poor game today and Kravish stood him up a number of times, but that moment did illustrate what opposing bigs of better quality have been doing to the Bears all year. Those same bigs will probably not be able to do that to Kingsley Okoroh next year, but who is going to be there behind him?
Rebounding: Cal got 13 from Kravish, but behind that needed a team effort from Wallace, Bird, and Mathews to hold their own on the boards. Imagine those same players free to release and fill the lanes on the break, because the front line was able to secure most boards. Imagine further that those same front line members are athletic and can trail the break for secondary dunk opportunities. Imagine.
Flash cuts: All year we've watched our wings, in particular Wallace, drive to the basket and end up with no options except to throw up an off balance floater. One of the obvious, preferable options in those spots is an athletic big man diving to the bucket. Except...as currently composed, the Cal roster lacks such an option. Imagine the amount of space that would open up if the driver could choose between finishing, kicking to a three, or throwing an alley-oop to an NBA caliber finisher. Imagine.
Christian Behrens participated in Senior Day because he is not sure whether he will use his last year of eligibility at Cal. He will explore graduate programs either at Cal or elsewhere. He had his strongest game in more than a month, with 17 active minutes on offense, defense, and on the boards.
Kingsley Okoroh has not played in two straight games. No word on whether it is health related or a coach's decision.
Athletic wing Davon Dillard tweeted his verbal commitment to Cal immediately following the game.
On a personal note, I have been critical of David Kravish in this space several times, but this seems like the appropriate time to express my overwhelming admiration for him. Despite the roster situation that has forced David into a role he is not entirely suited for, he has made fantastic contributions to this squad, and to the three others he has played on. He is clearly the heart of this team and one of the best bigs I have had the pleasure of watching at Cal. He is also a fantastic representative of the university. Cal might not be a school that goes to Final Fours every year, but it is nevertheless a school with a deep basketball tradition, precisely because we, as a Cal sports family, value the rich contributions our players make on many different levels. There is an intimacy, a sense of family, a love, in those player/community relationships that are unique, and I hope the recruits got a sense of that during today's festivities.