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Cal Falls Behind Again and Can’t Get Up—Loses to UCLA

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UCLA 107 - Cal 84

Photo Credit @CalMBBall

I’m running out of things to write about.

On Thursday, Nick told you about Cal once again getting down big against tough competition, and not being able to recover. He listed the last 3 early-1st-half deficits.

30-12

21-10

29-10

Let’s add today:

35-15

The 2017-18 Golden Bears are inexperienced, overmatched, and when they come out flat they are not going to be able to compete against good Pac-12 teams.

At the under 8:00 timeout of the 1st half, UCLA was shooting 12-22 from the field, including 7-14 from deep. Cal was shooting 5-20 and 1-7 from deep. Cal was unable to figure out what shots they wanted, while UCLA was making all of theirs.

Ball game.

As they have been doing lately, the Bears picked up their energy and attempted to fight their way back into the game. They used frenetic pressure, breaking out the full court defense they had abandoned for several weeks, and took the Bruins out of their offensive rhythm. At one point they cut the deficit to 11. Unfortunately, UCLA never did stop hitting their shots when they did cross half court, and that was enough to keep the Bears at bay. Final score: UCLA 107 - Cal 84.

Miscellaneous Observations

  • Many will glance at the final score and think the defense was awful. It wasn’t great, but it was not nearly as bad as UCLA’s 1.43 points per possession might indicate. UCLA shot 58% from the field, including 17-30 from deep. Nobody shoots that well without more than a little luck. The Bruins got 4-5 3p shooting from two bigs who were a combined 21-78 (27%) in their lives coming into the game. The Bears transition defense was not always strong, but in the half court they made the decision to give up long looks. UCLA made them.
  • Juhwan Harris-Dyson got the start and looked as good as he has all year, showing the ability to get to the hole and to disrupt on defense.
  • The Bears came up with 21 offensive boards on 43 missed shots, a phenomenal effort that shows how hard they fought to stay in the game. Marcus Lee got to 11 offensive boards on his own.
  • Getting wings moving aggressively toward the hoop, rather than passing on the perimeter and looking for dump downs to our bigs, creates better offense. Unfortunately, we still tend to rely more on the latter than the former.

So, at the midway point of the season Cal basketball is in some ways exactly what was expected, and in some ways continually confounding. They were expected to struggle with the top half of the conference, and they have. The moments of deer-in-the-headlights, confused, not-sure-how-to-handle-the-situation trepidation are exactly what one might have expected from this roster and a new head coach.

However, at this point in the season one might have expected a clear identity to emerge, and so far it has not. Cal started as a pressing team, then abandoned the press, and now has started to press again. Cal started as a zone team, shifted to primarily man, went back to zone for a successful stretch, and now seems to play whatever suits the occasion. In the process, they haven’t gotten good at much of anything on the defensive end. Meanwhile, on offense, a team that is at its best when its wings attack the basket continues running offense to dump the ball down to its inefficient, turnover-prone bigs, or -- sometimes more alarmingly -- not running much of anything at all. Amidst the changing strategies, the starting lineup and bench rotations also change on a game-by-game basis.

It’s hard to measure growth when the bar keeps changing.

Midway through the 2017-18 season, the California Golden Bears are a team looking for stability and an identity. They are a team that has to learn how to prepare for games, and how to come out looking as if they have prepared. They are a team still searching for how to be successful. On Thursday they go on the road, where they are undefeated, and the search continues.