When I was a junior in high school, I was a middle distance runner. By far my favorite event was the 4x400 relay, because it was an chance to race with your friends, to measure your team depth against your opponent. When I was a junior, we faced our biggest rivals in a dual meet and our opponents raced two relay teams against our one team.
We lost to both of them.
Our biggest rivals said ‘hey, we’ve got at least eight dudes who are faster than your four best. Suck on that.’ It was embarrassing. I ran anchor leg and had to find the motivation to push to the finish line when two dudes wearing the wrong color had already finished. And I thought about that feeling every time I trained with my buddies before our senior season, because I was going to do everything I could to prevent feeling that way again.
Why am I telling you this cliche story?
Because Cal just got flexed on. Arizona State slowly built themselves an insurmountable lead, then spent the last 10 minutes of the game showboating over a very beaten dead horse. The last few possessions were an exercise in no look passes, fakes, feints, walk-on threes and a whole host of on-court displays that the Devils never would have attempted if this game had been close. And the Bears had no choice but to take it.
This difficult season is almost over. Barring an unlikely upset it will end next Thursday in Las Vegas. And when Cal’s returning players need to find motivation during off-season workouts, I suspect that they might think back to how they felt walking off of the court in Tempe, having lost by 31 points.
Speaking of beating dead horses: Let’s talk about the shooting gap:
In tonight’s loss to Arizona State in Tempe, Cal became the first Division I team in over two years to attempt at least 18 threes while making zero.— John Gasaway (@JohnGasaway) March 2, 2018
On one hand, hitting exactly zero 3s on 18 attempts is clearly a statistical fluke since it happens on the time frame of year(s). On the other hand, if this type of fluke were to happen to a team, Cal would be a candidate. After today’s performance Cal is 349th in the nation in 3 point percentage at 29%. The reality of modern basketball is that you cannot reliably win games if you cannot pose a threat from the 3 point line.
I suppose one can be encouraged that Darius McNeill and Justice Sueing kinda sorta shooting 3s at a passable rate despite getting very few in-rhythm opportunities. But if you’re looking for hope that this program can be turned around, the inability of the offense to generate and hit 3 point looks isn’t the direction you should be looking.
The big question right now is how the coaching staff and roster react to an embarrassing defeat . . . and ultimately a lost season.
Wyking on postgame radio questioning team's effort and fight. Said they were selfish.— ReefCGB (@ReefCGB) March 2, 2018
On one hand, Wyking might be right in his analysis. I would certainly say that the team was badly demoralized in the 2nd half and didn’t display the impressive fight that has otherwise been a hallmark throughout conference play. Demoralized basketball isn’t necessarily selfish basketball, but the head coach is probably better positioned to identify this type of thing than me, guy-who-kinda-watched-but-kinda-paid-more-attention-to-twitter.
Is calling out this group publicly with that maybe-accurate-analysis the way to motivate them, or is this just going to further demoralize and alienate a group that we’ve otherwise been praising for effort and intensity in the face of constant losing?
I don’t know the answer to that question. We’d better hope that the head coach does.