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WBB Journal: Coping with a Midseason Swoon

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Photo Credit @CalWBBall

It feels bad right now.

Because for weeks I’ve been trying to deny the data.

Yes, I’ve been presenting the obvious: that all signs point to a Cal women’s team that is a fringe top 25--fringe top of the conference--squad, but has not shown that it can beat top level competition.

And here we are.

The Bears are 0-8 against top 50 RPI teams or, if you prefer, teams that are likely to make the NCAA tournament. They are 15-0 against everyone else.

Conclusion should be pretty easy, right? Pretty straightforward to predict what’s going to happen against better squads.

But my denial came in the form of finding reasons, in defiance of the evidence, that this year’s squad was going to reverse the trend, either because they were slightly (I hoped) underperforming their true offensive potential, or that they could gut their way into close, competitive performances and pull out a W.

After the last three games, it’s hard to hold on to that vision.

The ASU game was the least damning but the most disappointing. Not a true indictment because I watched the tape twice and our now-familiar offensive struggles could be attributed almost entirely to horrendous three point shooting. 2-19 is amazingly bad, but even more so when I charted every three point attempt, and saw very clearly that every single one was either poorly contested of not contested at all.

Every. Single. One.

Open.

17 misses.

The Bears came into that game 3rd in the conference in 3p shooting at 35%, and hoisting 19 open threes was a reasonable reaction to a packed zone defense. But hey, outlier, right? Or so we thought.

Nevertheless, ASU was the best chance we had to put up a quality victory the rest of the regular season, and it was not an enjoyable experience sitting in a dead Haas watching us wither away under the weight of 17 bricks. At one point Nick turned to me and said: “I write about a .500 football team and the worst men’s basketball team in program history. Women’s hoop is supposed to be my joy. Where is the joy?” There has been all too little lately.

The trip to Oregon, from a fan perspective, was just a blur of blowout despair. Yes, the shooting remained abysmal, as Nick has recently chronicled. Cal is now 5-41 (12%) from deep in its last three games, a number that will cause any offense to struggle. But the disease seems to have spread. Missed shots at the rim. Sometimes predictable, yet poorly executed, offense. Then, as the deficits mount, obviously deflated spirits resulting in fundamental errors: missed switches, missed box outs, failure to get back in transition.

We have not seen a total breakdown, but we are witnessing the slow creep creep creep of a team struggling with confidence, identity, purpose....and ultimately fighting against itself. The inevitable effect of high expectations combined with playing long stretches of basketball down by deep double digits.

The brutal triage...Cal has:

  • Lost three in a row.
  • Dropped to 6th place in the conference, tied with Utah, and two games behind 4th place ASU and OSU.
  • Dropped to 37th in RPI (down from 17 just two weeks ago).
  • Dropped to a projected 8th seed if the season ended today

I’m not sure whom or what to blame, or what to hope for the rest of the season. When I run back tape I see a team that could be doing a lot of little things better, that could be running better stuff more precisely, that could be bringing more energy, but, above and beyond all of that, can simply not get the ball to go in the hole. No amount of attention to detail is going to overcome 15, 20, 30 point deficits...if the ball just won’t go in the damn hole.

A true analysis of why we’re here could go a lot deeper. Pinpointing what’s happening schematically. Trying to understand personnel limitations. Digging into the numbers. But when I started this journal I said it wasn’t at its heart analytical. It’s emotional. And I’m writing this week to mostly convey one thing: the feelings suck right now.

There are only 6 regular season games left. Just two are opportunities for quality wins, both against Stanford, who suddenly looks like a legitimate Final Four contender. I guess what I wish for first and foremost is just for some shots to start dropping. Seeing the ball go in the basket compounds a lot of positive effects, and not seeing it go in can be even more disastrous. But I’ll be honest: I’m not sure whether or how the slump ends.

Right now we are on track for a mid-conference finish, a quick out in Seattle, and a seed of death in the NCAA tournament. It will take a mighty turnaround to reverse course. However, I’m also mindful that there are only 3 home games left, and I’ve enjoyed becoming a regular attendee far more than I was anticipating.

I will try to savor what we’ve got left. Three precious games in person. The end of Mikayla Cowling’s fun and spirited career. The adrenalin of two Stanford matchups in one week. The tantalizing possibility inherent in all post season tournaments. Because you never know.

I am, like most of our fan base, a little deflated. But I promised myself, midway through writing this, that I’m going to enjoy the rest of this ride as best I can.

And hope that we can shock the world.