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Cal Falls To Hawaii: Born Under A Bad Sign

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If it wasn't for bad luck You know, we wouldn't have no luck at all

Missed these guys badly
Missed these guys badly
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

I don't believe in 'DOOM.' I don't believe in 'Because Cal.' I don't believe that Cal athletics and Cal fans are fated to suffer endless pain and suffering. But damned if it doesn't make you wonder.

In the end, I've seen too many good times, too many good moments, to believe in that type of stuff. But there are other things I don't believe in, as it relates to sports fandom: Karma, justice, fairness. The universe will do you no favors.

Just so we're clear on this: Hawaii winning this game, in those circumstances, is not an upset. Cal, without Tyrone Wallace and Jabari Bird, vs. full strength Hawaii, is probably a coin flip game. Hawaii is a good team (that in other circumstances I would've enjoyed rooting for) that brought something like an A- effort against a team suddenly crippled by injuries without any time to prepare and mitigate in response (if mitigation was even possible). In case you doubt it, just consider:

Roger Moute a Bidias, season before Hawaii: 7 MPG, 11 DNPs. Minutes vs. Hawaii: 26
Brandon Chauca, 4 MPG, 25 DNPs. Minutes vs. Hawaii: 8
Stephen Domingo: 10 MPG, 3 DNPs. Minutes vs. Hawaii: 14

In the last 6 games prior to Hawaii, the three players listed above received a combined SEVENTEEN minutes of court time, then were promptly forced to play, on one day's notice, FORTY EIGHT minutes. That means that nearly every minute of the game, Cal was forced to play not only without two of their most critical players, but with players who receive very minimal minutes, playing in combinations that they haven't had to play all season. That's a perfect recipe for disaster, and disaster was more or less what we got.

Cal has had a good offense for much of the season, but that offense was always built on a fragile combination of skills that needed each other to work in concert. Cal needs Jabari Bird to stretch the court to create space for drivers and post ups and offensive rebound opportunities. Cal needs Tyrone Wallace as a release valve if a possession goes poorly. Cal simply doesn't have other players that are offensive threats to replace them. People were (somewhat justifiably) complaining about Ivan Rabb not getting enough touches, but when he's surrounded by players that can't create their own shots, what's he supposed to do? He was getting triple teamed at times.

For a solid 30 minutes until Michigan State was upset, Cal was getting roasted on twitter with idiotic hot takes about 'wasted talent.' (And I was only seeing dumb stuff retweeted from local media, so I can't even imagine the dumb things that national media said, along with twitter eggs.) And I suppose, in a literal sense, Cal was unable to maximize the talent that is literally on the roster. But if the talent isn't on the court it doesn't make much difference, does it? The world of sports always has to have somebody to blame, even when no person actually deserves any. I guess we're all destined to continue to pointlessly tilt at that particular windmill.

If you're somebody who thinks that Cuonzo got out-coached against Hawaii, I'm willing to listen to your reasons, but I really doubt you're going to be able to point to actual things that could have been done to salvage the absolutely brutal hand that the Bears were dealt.

Now, we have to talk about the one thing that went wrong that wasn't the fault of cruel fate. Jaylen Brown finished with one of the most ghastly stat lines I've ever seen from a player that is nominally Cal's best in a critical game: 17 minutes, 4 points, 1-6 from the field, 5 fouls, 7 turnovers. Granted, at least one of those turnovers was a criminally awful charge call, but by the time he fouled out it was almost a relief because Jaylen wasn't helping Cal win the game. And he knows it:

Jaylen Brown called it "a humbling moment, truly."

The Cal forward and Pac-12 Freshman of the Year took the heat for the Bears' 77-66 first-round NCAA tournament loss to Hawaii on Friday.

"A lot of the blame is on me," he said.

Without Jabari and Ty, there was one way Cal could have won (within the normal range of expected team/individual performance): Jaylen Brown rediscovering his mid-Pac-12 mojo and carrying Cal to a win - scoring 25 points, drawing 10 fouls, making life miserable for every Hawaii defender. We know that he has that type of performance in him. Instead, we got the same Jaylen that disappeared over the last three weeks of the season. Jaylen's lowest single game offensive rating from January 6th through February 28th? 89. Jaylen's highest offensive rating over the last five games of the season? 78. I know that progress isn't linear, but it's bizarre for a freshman to gradually improve all season long, hit a peak in February, and then utterly, utterly crash in March. I'm at a loss to begin to explain. It makes me tremendously sad, even outside of the context of a tournament defeat.

We're left with a program at the crossroads. Tyrone Wallace is leaving, having fulfilled a special promise to his family. Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown are more likely than not to leave with him. It's not entirely unlikely for coaching turnover to follow in the aftermath of the Hufnagel sexual harassment dismissal. As a result, it's very tough to forecast what Cal basketball might look like next year.

Of course, we knew that the Ty/Ivan/Jaylen team was going to be a one year deal. At their peak they might have been the best basketball team in Berkeley since Pete Newell. I hope they will be remembered for 18-0 at Haas and coming within a win at Eugene to a conference title, rather than as the team that just barely missed out on three gigantic wins before the universe turned against it in mid-March. I'll be trying very hard to do just that.

I loved this team (UGH WE SHOULDN'T HAVE TO BE USING PAST TENSE ALREADY). It's still too raw, too early, for meaningful retrospection. Right now, I'm crushed. But once I have some chance to distance myself, I suspect this team will be high up my list in roughly 20 years of Cal fandom. It hurts to have it end too soon, without being given a fair chance when everyone was paying attention.