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WBB Weeks 3 & 4: Meandering Through the Non-Conference Schedule

Reef’s Journal Takes Him to Berkeley and Santa Clara

Photo from calbears.com

Hello, women’s basketball, you glorious ray of sunshine.

Men’s basketball is difficult right now, both on the court and (for us blogging types) having to keep your mouth shut about stuff off the court. I’m not a sports fan to raise my anxiety level, ya know? I’m here for the joy. So here are weeks 3 and 4 of my WBB fan journal.

I do it every year. A few days before Black Friday I buy something, then immediately it shows up on sale for a much cheaper amount. Last year my phone broke and I got an HTC10 a week before Thanksgiving. Naturally Verizon decided to put the Google Pixel on a Black Friday sale for half the price. Whelp, this year I bought myself a WBB flex book to cheer myself up after getting home from Big Game. I figured 10 games of my now-favorite Cal team costs less than that miserable Palo Alto experience, let’s just do it. Of course, a few days later flex books went on sale for half price.

On Friday, however, CalBear81 mentioned to me that she has an extra pair of WBB season tickets, just to support the team. And I thought, ok fine, I can spare 25 bucks for this squad. They’re worth it. I still hate missing a sale though

Anyway, I was bedridden with the flu for a week. This is why you’re getting two weeks crammed into one. It’s also why this won’t be at the level of depth I’d like to write with in a perfect world. Some of the stuff that went down took place more than a week before I sat down to write about it, and I experienced much of it in a delirious fog. But despite it all, I managed to drag myself out of bed for two games right after Thanksgiving, and then down to Santa Clara for my first ever WBB “road trip.”

This is going to be a quick entry, but when this year inevitably ends in a Final Four trip, I want to make sure we’ve got a record of the whole journey. Let’s get to the games.

Manhattan, 3-1

The Bears’ third win of the season was notable to me for two reasons.

First, the Bears scored 87 points on 55% shooting, annihilating the Jaspers to the tune of 1.225 points per possession. Ok, a good team will do that to a bad team in this sport. But here’s the startling part: only 3 of those points were scored by Kristine Anigwe. Asha Thomas was the star of the game with 29 points on 16 shots from the floor (more on her later). But Kianna Smith kicked in another 17 points on 9 shots. Then the list of scorers on the list before we get to Kristine was remarkable: CJ West 12, Mo Mosley 8, Penina Davison 7, and Jaelyn Brown 6. The balanced scoring happened because Manhattan chose to do this:

And Cal said fine, we can play 4 on 3 all over the rest of the court and beat you. I’m not sure they would have been capable of doing it quite so convincingly in years past, but new year, new team, new sources for points up and down the lineup.

Second, you need to come out to games because you quite literally *never* know what you’re going to see when you head out to the arena. In this case, history. Because Manhattan’s zone was committed to collapsing on Kristine, there were wide open shots all over the perimeter. Asha, coming off a tough shooting game at Brown, is our best shooter. The team moved the ball and got her open looks. End result? A school record 9, yes 9, three pointers. To put that in perspective, in the entire history of the NBA there have only been 32 games in which a player has made more than 9 three pointers. And they have a shorter shot clock and 8 more minutes of game time to shoot the ball. 9 is a freakin’ lot.

The last one was cool because I was sitting right behind her as she released it, and right behind Asha’s family, and when Sara passed her the ball in the right corner we immediately knew it was going up, and we immediately knew it was going in. I was not aware of the record, but I’m pretty sure the families were, because they exploded in a standing O as soon as it splashed. We may not see 9 three pointers in a Cal game again in our lifetimes. That’s how special that performance was.

Missouri, 3-2

We lost. It sucks to lose. I had a 101 fever at the game. It also sucks to have a 101 fever. This is what I remember from the game.

If I had to pick one side of the ball on which I’d like to see growth this year, I’d pick the defensive side, for reasons I’ll save for a later journal. But I thought this was a game we lost on the offensive side of the ball. As good as the ball movement and shot selection were against Manhattan, that’s how bad it was in the first half against Missouri. The Tigers played a little different from the Jaspers -- a man instead of a zone -- but with the same core idea: clog up the paint and don’t let Kristine beat you. It looked like pack-line principles...collapse everything into the paint and then recover out to shooters. Missouri is particularly equipped to play this style because they’ve got a bunch of long, rangy players all over their lineup.

In the first half we did not handle their defense well. If I had tape and time, I’d run it back and count the number of bad, out of rhythm, settle-jumpers we took during a discouraging 8-28 performance. I can’t do that, but I can assure you it was a lot. The nice flow from the day before was all gone. Everything was clogged and clunky and forced. End result: 22 1st half points on 28 shots and an 8 point halftime deficit despite a really solid defensive effort in our tenacious man to man.

It was a great environment down the stretch, and Haas was rocking as they Bears surged to tie it up, before finally succumbing to one too many Missouri made threes. I could talk about that, or some of the calls I was yelling about during the game, or how I kept thinking about how just a few minutes from Mi’Cole might have been a difference maker in a game with a razor thing margin. But now that the game is a week behind us, I view the Missouri loss as one that needs to be learned from. In the 2nd half, we ran some stuff that got our bigs moving and we played better than Missouri. How do we take care of that business in-game, to make sure we don’t dig ourselves halftime holes? How do we make sure we aren’t settling? You have to grow from tough losses, and hopefully the team will.

Santa Clara, 5-2

I completely missed the Seattle game -- stupid job -- so I was particularly excited to drive down to catch the team on the road. Before Saturday the only WBB road venue I’d visited was Maples. It was interesting seeing how the other half lives. Santa Clara’s Leavey Center (formerly known as Toso Pavilion) is an on campus arena near the 880. The first contrast you notice is there’s plentiful parking! For a game like this, you can drive right up, park for free a few yards from the ticket office, and walk a few yards into the arena. General admission was $8, highlighting again what a great value home games at Haas are.

The Leavey Center holds a cozy 4,500. It’s not exactly Harmon Gym, because the grandstands are a little bit removed from the court. But you do get a great feel for the action, and you can hear everything that’s being said out there.

I’m not sure how much to make of a 38 point blowout over an overmatched opponent, but I know it’s not a bad thing. I mentioned that I am probably more concerned about our defense than our offense this year, and if that’s the case, Santa Clara was a good sign. The Bears opened up with intense ball pressure from the start, something we haven’t seen this year. Usually the ball pressure comes as a change of pace at a strategic time in the game. On Saturday it happened from the tip. The Broncos barely even got a look at the rim in the opening quarter. The Bears raced out to a 16-0 lead and didn’t allow a score for the first 6:30.

It seems like this year our man to man is going to be our base defense, and everything else is going to be a change up off of that foundation. If so, the base looks really good, both in its basic form, and when the Bears apply more traps and more direct attacking of the ball.

The stat of the game for me was that we held Santa Clara to a miniscule .67 points per possession. That’s an astonishing number, regardless of opponent. It bodes well for the future.

So, next week should be relatively uneventful: a home game against San Diego then a road trip to Stockton. I was looking forward to heading down to Stockton myself to meet up with Nick and CalBear81, but I just realized my schedule is going to take me out of town next week. I’ll probably miss both games.

This might be a good opportunity to dig into the numbers a little more, and take stock of what we’ve learned about this team in the early season. What do the analytics tell us about the Bears’ place in the college basketball universe?

Or I can write about whatever you want. So, I’ll leave that to y’all. How are we feeling about this 5-2 squad through the early part of the season? What are we excited about as we round into conference time? Is there anything you want to read about or discuss in this space?

Until next week, Go Bears.