Less than 24 hours after seeing the impact energy can have against a superior opponent, the Bears took the floor against a team that should, on paper, have been similar to them in talent level. VCU is about the equivalent of a middle of the road Pac-12 team, ostensibly a good barometer for how the Bears will perform in conference this year.
How’d it go? Well, let’s try something a little different. Let’s go through the first 12 possessions.
- Marcus Lee entry left block. Two dribbles and an obvious hop into a travel. Turnover.
- D starts out solidly by forcing a tough VCU three from the right corner. Good rotations.
- King from right elbow tries to find Don cutting baseline, telegraphed and knocked away. Turnover.
- Easy entry to Khris Lane, foul on Marcus, makes both. 2-0.
- Don drives into help, blocked.
- Entry to King on the left block. Two dribbles, double comes, moves pivot foot twice, travel. Turnover.
- VCU passes over the top of the press, Lane layup barely contested. 4-0
- VCU starts in a man press. Darius drives into a trap, coughs it up, and after a scramble Justice grabs the loose ball and throws up a wild, contested three with 18 left on the shot clock. Air ball.
- Tyler Maye dribbles by Darius, jumps easily into a 5 foot floater, fouled from behind, bucket and 1. 7-0
- Darius dribbles up left sideline, almost gets trapped but gets through for a layup. 7-2
- Zone gives up a wide open three to Maye on the right wing. 10-2
- Deschon in the game is trapped in the backcourt and gives it up to Marcus who decides to dribble 20 feet up the floor. Stops, isn’t sure what to do with it, telegraphs a cross court pass that’s picked off by Jonathan Williams who goes the other way for a layup. 12-2
- Timeout Bears, who have barely gotten out of bed and suddenly trail by double digits.
Four minutes. Four turnovers. Only one shot on offense that actually got to the rim. One shot properly contested defensively on six VCU possessions. And so it went. A day after imposing their will on a lethargic team, the young Golden Bears learned what it’s like when you are asleep and the other team imposes their pace on you. The rest of the first half was more of the same: bad possession after bad possession by the Bears exchanged with open look after open look for the Rams. The halftime deficit was 55-29, and Cal was never in it. Final Score: VCU 83 - Cal 69.
This is going to be a short recap because I’m not sure what else to say after a performance like that. The 2017-18 version of Cal Men’s Basketball has very little margin for error. Jaylen Brown isn’t walking through that door. Ivan Rabb isn’t walking through that door. There are going to be very few nights when we can mail it in and get by on our talent and athleticism. There’s some help coming next year, and heck, maybe some of the guys on the roster will develop to the point where they can cruise and still be competitive. But right now, this squad is going to have to compete for 40 minutes to have any chance to win basketball games. More to the point, if you’re learning together about what to do and how to do it -- how to prepare and the mindset you need to bring your game every night -- you might as well learn early on what is required. Building a culture means holding yourself and each other accountable for what’s going on out on the floor.
Coming out flat was perhaps understandable given the magnitude of the prior game and having to play on a back to back. Now they have to live with the results and they have to decide whether this is acceptable.
This section is going to be hard to write today. More than anything I saw areas where growth was lacking. We faced a full court pressure man where one defender would come off his man to trap, leaving our ball handler to decide whether to try to dribble through or find a passing angle for the guy left open by the trap. This was a very different dilemma from the night before, when facing a zone trap meant understanding where open areas were on the floor. Regardless, we do not yet have veteran savvy in the backcourt, and early on we struggled. By the time we adjusted and started handling the pressure, VCU’s lead was in the 20s.
Our bigs were demolished for the second straight night. Midway through the 1st half they were a combined 0-5 with 5 turnovers. And by that point we were down by 15. Wyking has talked consistently about relying on his senior bigs. We ran all kinds of action in the half court to get them the ball. If they are going to be the focal point of the offense they have to show they deserve it.
Oh wait, this is my section about growth. Well, we came out with renewed intensity and energy in the second half. After the break the Bears turned the Rams over 12 times and made 11 steals. For the first time this year (that I can remember) the wrinkle when the top of the zone jumps into a trap and the back line of the zone jumps into passing lanes turned over the opposition. We also tried a man-based press in the 2nd half, which got VCU out of its normal ballhandling rotations and into some uncomfortable spots. So it does seem like the press is making some progress. There’s still a long way to go.
I guess the other bright spot is that they scrapped all the way to the end. That’s not necessarily indicative of season-long growth, because I think they’ve been pretty scrappy all year, but given how muddled they were in the first half it was nice to see that the team didn’t mail it in.
Otherwise, I don’t know how to frame that as anything but a stinker. Almost everything regressed. Decision making regressed. Execution regressed. Three point shooting regressed. Effort regressed.
We knew there would be games like this. I’m not prepared to say what that means for the arc of the season until we get more games under our belt. The next two opponents should provide good opportunities to set a better tone, establish more of our identity, and get back over .500 before another benchmark game against St. Mary’s.
The course of true love never did run smooth. Let’s see what they learn from this.
Tomorrow’s final game from Hawaii will be against Chaminade on ESPNU at 11:30am PT.