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Cal 78, Washington 75: Bears break road hex behind Jaylen Brown, defense

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Cal's freshmen star scores a thrilling 23 points and the Bears stifle Washington's defense. Please just forget everything that happened in the final 2 minutes of that game.

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Cal has lost 6 games on the road. Five of those have come to teams pretty much everybody projects as tournament teams, and one came against a decent-ish team that benefited from reffing malpractice. Cal now has a conference road win, which means, we can stop talking about the friggin' road thing. It's over, and will be even more so after Cal dispatches a sad sack Washington State outfit on Sunday.

It's over because Jaylen Brown wasn't going to let the Bears lose. A number of weeks ago, I predicted that there would be a game where Brown would will the Bears to a win largely by himself. I think that's a little bit of a stretch because Cal's defense and rebounding was just as critical. But on a night where Cal's offense generally struggled to find consistent scoring options, Brown's ability to create offense by himself was the driving force that allowed Cal to pull away from what was otherwise a tight, back-and-forth game.

Unfortunately, the end of the game was marred by an insane comeback attempt by Washington fueled by bizarre whistles and bad free throw shooting. We'll discuss that more below, but don't let that distract you from what truly matters: for 38 minutes Cal outperformed a decent team on the road despite a variety of factors not going their way. They were able to do so because their most talented player is starting to realize his freshman ceiling, which makes Cal's team ceiling that much higher.

It was enough because Cal's defense was at its best. Holding a team like Washington to 75 is an accomplishment. The Bears did it by doing two things very, very well. They held the Huskies to 33% shooting and a paltry (for them) 24% offensive rebounding percentage. The Huskies only kept close thanks to 38 free throw attempts, which . . . well, more on that later. Add it all up and the Bears held UW to .9 points/possessions, Washington's 3rd lowest mark of the season, and lowest mark at home. Jaylen won Cal this game, and defense won Cal this game.

The numbers look glorious: Chriss? 6-15. Andrews? 4-15. Murray? 5-16. Washington's only high percentage looks were offensive rebounds after a missed shot on a drive, which is something I'm willing to live with considering how Cal held UW's guards in check. It's a credit to the continually improving perimeter defense from Cal's guards, and continually improving help defense from Cal's bigs.

Now, back to Jaylen friggin' Brown. There's this:

And this

And this:

You can mix it various other nifty dribbles, crafty drives, outright physical domination, and drawn fouls. A man amongst boys, who also happens to be scoring efficiently (23 points on 13 shots) all of a sudden. Watch out world.

Bullet points:

  • If Kam could do everything he's currently doing, but also not foul at pretty much the highest rate in the conference, he'd probably be an 1st team all-conference defensive player. His foul rate is at least in part a reflection of the responsibility Cuonzo puts on him to play help defense and to guard one-on-one without help.
  • The reffing was bad. Bad at the micro level, with multiple individual calls that were horrible, and bad at the macro level, where you call 56 total fouls, and call fewer fouls against the aggressive, pressure defense team that also spent 2 minutes intentionally fouling. How does that even happen? My favorite sequence saw the refs take 2 points away from Cal on an obvious goal tend, then call Jordan for a clean strip. It was bad.
  • The three worst, with worst being defined as highest impact? At the end of the game, UW mauls Ivan on an in bound attempt, no call. UW bumps Jordan off of his spot, travel instead of a UW foul. Jabari goes up for a 50/50 rebound, foul on Jabari rather than a standard no call. All three materially contributed to UW's comeback attempt. Home whistles have contributed both to Cal's sterling home record and painful road record. It's nice to finally overcome them this time around.
  • BALL DON'T LIE (or, if you prefer, MEAN GONNA REGRESS because a 65% free throw shooter was 6-6 from the line before those last two attempts)
  • I like 90 to 95% of what Cuonzo Martin does. But running late game in bounds plays designed for Tyrone Wallace is coaching malpractice of the highest order. Ty is not meaningfully quicker than Jordan or Jabari, and keeping Ivan in the back court to be tall and jump high is an option too. Ty is not a good free throw shooter, and that's not changing while he's at Cal.
  • I truly do understand that you, as a fan, hate watching Cal miss a ton of free throws. I sympathize. But for the love of God, can we just accept that aspect of this team and move on to focusing on what they do well?
  • Ivan Rabb had a really rough offensive game, struggling to get touches and struggling to finish when he actually got the ball. To his credit, he didn't let that frustration transfer to the other end of the court, where he worked with Kam to lock down the glass and came up with a couple of huge blocks in the 2nd half.
  • Cal got next to nothing from Jabari (early foul trouble, never got in rhythm), didn't shoot well from behind the arc, didn't get much from Ivan, didn't get any positive variance from the refs, and didn't really find any offense from unexpected sources, and still won on the road. I'll leave it up to you to decide how much credit goes to the Bears for finding a way despite all of that, and how much blame goes to Washington.
The Bears did it, barely. They tamed team chaos, barely. I don't believe in momentum. I do believe in the ability of a team to improve, to learn to play together. I do believe in peaking at the right time. I think the Bears are doing that. There are two home games left on the schedule, and three road games. They just won what might be, entering today, the 2nd toughest game left on their regular season schedule. Kenpom sez we're the 30th best team in the country, and that includes all of the stuff that happened early in the season, before this team started playing spectacular field goal % defense, before Jaylen became JAYLEN.

Winning this one keeps all kinds of fun possibilities on the table. #teamhype all the way through a Pac-12 title run, baby.