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Cal basketball falls to Colorado, everybody is sad

The Bears are 4-5, time to find somebody to blame!

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Before we begin, a disclaimer: I wasn't supposed to recap this game. But due to a variety of uncontrollable circumstances - most primarily, that I am fated to write about every single freakin' Cal road loss - you get to read my ramblings about a game that I have not watched the entirety of, and didn't see live. This will not be a good, insightful recap.

It's just as well that the usual column is being pre-empted. All of the non-basketball things in the news are either too complicated for bloggers to have a valuable take (The Ted Agu lawsuit) or topics that I make a deliberate effort to remain ignorant about (recruiting). So. Basketball. Let's get a quick game summary out of the way.

Cal's game against Colorado started out very similarly to the game at Haas between these two teams. Colorado couldn't score against Cal's defense, but the Bears couldn't score enough for themselves to fully take advantage of Colorado's poor shooting. This time around, the Buffs eventually found a consistent shooting touch, and the Bears couldn't match.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the game shifted when Jaylen Brown picked up his second personal foul and sat for the rest of the half. True, he hadn't exactly set the world on fire early in the game, but his mere presence on the floor demands attention and frees up space for Cal's other players. And in the end, his ability to create something out of nothing is a critical skill for an offense that has to play too many players that either can't create their own shot or struggle even to create within the flow of a well executed set. This team needs Jaylen Brown on the court.

Colorado went on a 34-13 run with Brown on the bench. For somebody who is probably in the top quintile of Cal fans who feel positive about Cuonzo Martin, that's coaching malpractice. Brown returned to score 21 points in the 2nd half, cutting the deficit from 14 all the way down to 4, but it was a hole too deep for the Bears to escape, for a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons include:

  • Colorado only attempted 9 three pointers, but they made 5. That's not a crazy number because they're a really good deep shooting team, but it's unfortunate.
  • Cal still fouls waaaaaaaay too much, and those 28 fouls led to 30 Colorado free throw attempts.
  • The offense turned the ball over 15 times against a defense that doesn't really force very many turnovers.
So, you know, many of the same issues that have plagued this team for a significant portion of the season. The Bears would have an elite defense (they held Colorado to 35% on 2 pointers!) if they could just not foul so damned much. They would have a solid Pac-12 offense if they could just not turn the ball over so damned much. Both of these issues have been happening for long enough that it's not really realistic to expect that to change much any time soon.

Cal is now 4 and 5 in the Pac-12, and they were just swept on the road in two games where they kept the score close enough that if you squinted you could pretend they might have been able to win. But really, Cal never felt like winning either game. Which means you get this:


The natives are restless. And yes, I know that people that comment on public facebook posts certainly don't represent anything close to the majority of a fan base. But they tend to be the canary in the coal mine, an indication that the larger fan base is starting to have doubts. It means everybody is probably moving in the wrong direction on the gruntled --> disgruntled scale. It's not fun to watch Cal lose. It's extra not fun to watch Cal lose when you had expectations for more. It's extra not fun to watch a team that turns the ball over a lot, fouls a lot, and doesn't usually shoot free throws well.*

And so we go through the usual internet cycle after a frustrating Cal basketball loss under Cuonzo. We bemoan how 'talent is being wasted,' which I think glosses over what Reef has pointed out is kind of a weird collection of talent and basketball skills. People complain about how Cal 'doesn't run an offense' after scoring .9 points/possession on the road at altitude, against a top 4 Pac-12 defense despite not having a solution at point guard and only getting 26 minutes from our most important offensive player. And people tweet reactive things about Cuonzo because I guess they enjoy being retweeted by dumb Tennessee fans.

I dunno. I can't tell you how to feel. This isn't very much fun. I do think that Cuonzo Martin is a strong long term solution for Cal basketball. I don't blame anybody necessarily for disagreeing with me. I'm always perplexed when people react to a loss with anger and vitriol rather than sadness and sardonic lamentation. It's still just college sports after all.

*Though they actually out shot the best free throw shooting team in the conference, so go figure. Also, I have a theory that there's a near 1-to-1 correlation between how much a fan enjoys watching a team, and how much that team shoots free throws and turns the ball over, even if that team happens to do many other important things very well.