So. Cal got blown out. That sucked, but we’ve gotta talk about it because being a sports fan is nothing if not an act of occasional self-loathing.
Oregon shot 9-15 from three in the first half. Ivan Rabb didn’t make a shot until halfway through the second half. Bill Walton was openly questioning Cal’s effort in the final five minutes of the game. Other than that, what an entertaining two hours of post-work leisure activity!
Back early in the season, Sports Illustrated ran an article about prominent what-if scenarios in college basketball. One of them was ‘What if Ivan Rabb went pro?’ The conclusion? Cal would be boned without Ivan.
We just experienced life without Ivan.
Cal’s best player finished 2-10 from the field with 6 boards. He had more combined turnovers and fouls (6) than points (4). He missed a number of shots from excellent, deep post position. He was thoroughly, thoroughly outplayed by Jordan Bell, who might be a 2nd round NBA draft pick. There are other reasons why Cal lost by 23, but it starts and ends with a no-show from Cal’s go-to player.
Maybe it’s not fair that Ivan has to carry such a heavy burden every night, that Cal has to get at least a solid game from him to beat most Pac-12 teams. But that’s reality. And reality punched back HARD in Eugene.
It’s an interesting question, deciding how much you want to read into this game.
It feels dumb to say after a half in which Cal allowed 44 points, but I actually thought Cal’s 1st half defense was reasonable.
Oregon made exactly two shots in the first half that weren’t jumpers. One was a fast break layup, and the other was a nice drive from Dillon Brooks. Every single other shot was a 2 point jumper, or a 3. But of course, Oregon built a huge lead because they couldn’t miss a jumper, particularly from 3. Cal’s mediocre offense just isn’t going to keep up when another team goes off like that.
Could it have been prevented? Maybe. Cal allowed too many good looks, mostly because their guards spent too much time helping off of shooters rather than trusting teammates to guard one on one. Still though, there’s not a ton you can do when the opponent shoots 64% from deep on a high volume of attempts.
One thing worth mentioning: I wish this Cal team had the sheer ability to occasionally shoot the lights out a la what Oregon did. I don’t really think it’s on the table.
So Oregon scores 44 first half points on the back of crazy shooting. That’s rough. How do you respond? For the briefest of moments, Jabari hit a few 3s, Oregon’s shooting regressed, and it looked like Cal had a chance to make the game competitive. But Oregon responded like you would expect an elite team to respond at home, and Cal didn’t.
And then we started pressing to speed up the game. And then we started throwing out some iffy zones. And then we lost what little intensity we had left. And Oregon started getting dunk after dunk. And a garden variety road loss to a good team turned into an embarrassing road loss to a good team.
I’ll defend Cal’s first half effort. Their effort in the last 10 minutes of the game? Much more concerning.
The hopeful view on Cal’s offense prior to the season was that once everybody was healthy, the whole would be more than the sum of the parts. A fully healthy, lethal Ivan plus a 3-droppin’-Jabari plus a savant freshman point guard plus a savvy Ivy league dead eye plus two 7 footers who can board = an offense that can get and hit good looks.
That simply hasn’t materialized. There simply isn’t enough shooting/finishing, and there aren’t enough plus passers. Thankfully, the defense has been great enough to keep this team firmly in the top half of the Pac-12. It’s still less than we hoped. Sigh.
I always try to end things on a note of optimism, so let’s give it a shot:
Cal has played the toughest conference schedule to date. They are the only team to have played all three of the legit contenders in the conference, two of which came away from home.
It’s 100% fair to be disappointed right now. We hoped that if this team hit their ceiling that they would be competing WITH Arizona, UCLA, and Oregon, rather than to be the best team in the conference AFTER them. The simple reality is that Cal doesn’t have the talent to match up with those teams from the top to the bottom of the rotation.
That doesn’t mean that this season will be devoid of meaning and enjoyment. But this team is going to have to take a collective step back and assess what happened in the 2nd half and recommitted to its self-professed values of effort and toughness.