As we've said all year around here, this is the toughest Pac-10 / 12 conference in recent memory. Five teams are among the top 50 in the nation. 10 teams are in the top 80. As many as nine have a legitimate chance to make the NCAA tournament, and six are a virtual lock. It is hard -- really, really hard -- to win in this conference, and it is especially hard to win on the road.
Then there's Washington State. As Trace let us all know, Ernie Kent's boys...they're just not very good at basketball. They may be in the top 200 in the nation. Then again they may not, given the way they've been playing lately. 1-13 in conference. Last in offensive efficiency. Last in defensive efficiency. This was supposed to be an easy night, in a year with almost no easy nights. But if you've been a Cal fan -- or a college basketball fan -- for any length of time, you are instinctively wary of road games that are supposed to be gimmes, especially on the back end of an extended road trip, in a dead, empty arena, after already taking care of what was supposed to be the key game of the trip.
Thankfully, this Cal team went up to the state of Washington with serious questions about their ability to win on the road, they said they would take care of business, and they returned with a road sweep.
The Bears came out on fire early, as if to say, let's get this over with so the real race for the conference title can begin. Their first eight baskets were split among five players, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Kameron Rooks, Jabari Bird, and Jordan Mathews. When Jordan made a long three six minutes into the game, Cal was up 19-5, and the game was already over. Cal's Achilles Heel on defense, too many and too frequent unnecessary fouls, reared its ugly head again, as they committed 12 fouls and sent the Cougars to the line 14 times. It didn't matter. At the half Cal held a 13 rebound edge, was shooting 15% better than the Cougars, and were comfortably up by nine. From there, the second half was mere formality, as the Bears easily stretched the lead out past 20 points, while experimenting with a number of new offensive wrinkles.
Final score: Cal 80 - WSU 62.
Okay. Enough of that game. WSU is barely dust on the bottom of our shoes. You're reading this because March is eight days away. Because Cal is on a five game winning streak, and now sits at 9-5, 4th place in the conference but only one game out of 1st place. Because if the season ended today we'd probably be a 7 seed in the NCAA tournament. Because the possibility of an undefeated season at home suddenly feels like a probability. Because you are wondering whether it's foolish to dream -- nay, to believe -- that we can go to Tucson, beat Arizona on their home floor, run this whole damn table, and win the Pac-12 conference. Because, despite your reflexive, inner caution as a Cal fan, you are starting to believe the #Hype.
Well, I'm not going to stop you. This Cal team has flaws, to be sure. They are led by two ball-dominant wings who often make questionable decisions. They have a hard time taking advantage of their most efficient low post scorer. They have a good defense that fouls too darn much. That's the glass half empty.
The glass half full says Cal is a matchup nightmare. They have three guys who are hard to guard one on one and in transition. They are great rebounders. They consistently win the shot selection battle -- forcing other teams to take low percentage two point shots while they take good threes and finish around the rim. They combine the nation's best two point FG% defense with an offense that has put up better than 1.10 points per possession in four of the last five. They can beat any team on any night. Any team. Period.
You and I, we don't know what's going to happen. But we know what could happen, and we're here to bear witness. But first things first. Two more games to an undefeated season. Two more opportunities to defend our Haas. Two more chances to watch Tyrone Wallace in person. Keep winning. At home. Together. We attack.
Tyrone Wallace is best with the ball in his hands, and in the second half he showed how dangerous he can be. Ty got to any spot on the floor he wanted, scored at will, and after an empty 1st half put up 17 on 6-7 shooting including 3-3 from deep. The threes are not sustainable, but a dynamic, confident lead guard hopefully is. Cal needs to find a way to share the ball while also finding opportunities for Tyrone to score the ball.
Jaylen Brown must stop picking up silly fouls. Plain and simple. Every game he picks up one or two that are completely unnecessary, for someone with his physical ability. Some of the freedom of movement calls are perhaps understandable from his teammates, who are not nearly as physically dominant, but if Jaylen is doing it right, he should almost never foul. We will need him to play full minutes in the games to come.
Ivan Rabb went 5-5 from the floor, and you got the feeling he could have gone 10-10 if it was needed. He is still not physically strong enough to get the position that he wants against bigger, older players, but his skill level is so high it often doesn't matter. The mystery of how a player shooting 62.6% eFG is only taking 19.1% of the shots when he's on the floor will hopefully be solved before the end of the year.
When Jordan Mathews and Jabari Bird are both playing confidently, this is a top 10 team.
- Kameron Rooks is starting to look like he can play in the post. I wonder how much his year off cost him, and I wonder what he's going to look like in a year.