Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Cal played a better team tough, but ultimately couldn’t hit enough shots to win the game.
True, this game didn’t follow the most typical Cal-in-17-18 script. For the first time I can remember this season Cal had a big turnover advantage (+7) but got beaten on the glass. Stanford got a few more free throws, but the Bears shot well enough from the line to negate that advantage. But all of that was overshadowed by Cal’s lack of shooting.
44% on 2 point shots. 17% on 3 point shots. Another game that saw Cal attempt significantly more shots than their opponent (12 this time) and still lose.
The shooting has been so bad that I find myself questioning basic basketball strategy. With 18 seconds left, Don Coleman comes down with defensive rebound and charges up court. The Bears are down by 3, and everything I know about basketball suggests that Cal should be working to find a 3 point opportunity. On the other hand, Darius McNeill had already fouled out, the refs were calling everything, and Don Coleman is Cal’s best slasher. Maybe, for this particular team, Don attacking the bucket was in fact the best chance we’d get to tie/extend the game. But if that’s the case it speaks volumes to the offensive limitations these Bears face. Unfortunately Don’s shot was blocked, Stanford hit their free throws, and the discussion was rendered academic.
If Cal had shot the ball well, they would have put up some truly impressive offensive numbers. The Bears actually managed their 4th best offensive efficiency of the conference season thanks to their 2nd best ball handling performance and a trigger happy crew of refs. That plus Cal’s typically strong offensive rebounding meant that the Bears had chance after chance after chance to get the ball through the hoop. It’s pretty impressive in a way to manage 1.03 points/possession with an eFG% of 39%.
But it’s hard to distinguish between what Cal (and, for that matter, Stanford) did well on offense from how the refs impacted the game. Both teams got a quarter of their points from the line as the refs called a pretty stunning 29 fouls in the 2nd half. Only 1 of those 29 fouls were intentional. The 2nd half was pretty unwatchable despite being consistently close.
To the extent that this game showed anything new, Wyking showed a renewed emphasis on the full court press, a sensible strategy against one of the more turnover prone squads in the conference. Not surprisingly, it was hit and miss. Cal forced a few turnovers on the press in the 1st half, and they led to important transition buckets. But Stanford was more prepared in the 2nd half and got press break baskets of their own in response. Still, the press looked as effective as it had all season.
This is the first of three winnable home games for the Bears. Ultimately, whether or not they won this game, and whether or not they win either or both games in their final home weekend of the season, shouldn’t really impact what you think of this team much. But for the sake of having a little fun, and of rewarding consistent on-court effort, it would be nice if this group could get another W or two to close things out.
Because honestly? These Bears have the statistical profile of a team that could’ve thrown up an 0-18 conference goose egg, and I don’t think it’s crazy to suggest that consistently above average effort and energy is what has given this team two wins and a shot at a few others in close games. When the Bears lost 5 straight by double digits after the Stanford comeback, other teams might’ve thrown in the towel.