If there was any hope of Cal men’s basketball grabbing a road conference win, the assumption is that it needed to happen in Pullman against the defensively deficient Washington State Cougars. But as bad as Wazzu’s defense is under Ernie Kent, it’s no match for an historically bad Cal defense . . . and a Cal offense that has steadily regressed against Pac-12 competition after some encouraging early season signs.
Entering the game, there were reasons for optimism. Would WSU’s best player, Robert Franks, play? And even if he suited up, would he be effective? Either way, this is a team that Cal should be able to score on, so who knows, maybe the Bears can win a shoot out!
Franks ended up playing just fine, scoring 24 points in 31 minutes. Cal would not score with the Cougars.
Washington State is the worst team Cal has lost to on the season, and losing by 23 mitigates any leniency that one might give for this game being played on the road. Other than a brief hot stretch in the first half when Cal went on a 15-4 run to very briefly take a 1 point lead, Cal was outplayed throughout.
What little optimism I had waned when Conor Vanover picked up an early foul because he was knocked over by another Cal defender when they both attempted a close out on a wide open shooter in the corner. I knew that this was going to be another bad defeat when four Cal defenders all failed to pick up the only Cougar who was in the paint on a lazy semi-transition bucket. For all of the talk of defensive effort and focus coming from Cal’s coaching staff, defensive execution has not improved in any meaningful way. That fact is obvious if you’re relying on the eye test or just looking at the raw numbers. Cal cannot play defense.
I started writing this recap somewhere around the 10:00 mark of the 2nd half, with WSU up 20 and both teams looking like the last quarter of the game was an exercise in playing out the string. In the sadly long list of demoralizing defeats Cal has suffered in the last 1.5 seasons, this one is relatively high up the list.
What went wrong? Well, against a defense not known for being particularly disruptive, Cal turned the ball over a surprising 14 times. Paris Austin had probably his worst floor game of the year with six by himself. But Cal also wasn’t particularly great at earning decent looks even when they didn’t turn the ball over, and as a consequence they only managed an eFG% of 44.6 against a defense that has allowed a stunning 64% eFG% shooting collectively in their first three conference games.
If you’re looking for positives . . . well, I dunno. Matt Bradley had a couple of nice takes, and walk-on David Serge hit a 3 in the final minute for his first career points. That’s really about it.
Cal is now in last place of the Pac-12 and will face a much tougher team in UW on Saturday. Prior to conference play there was no reason to think that the Bears wouldn’t be able to grab a handful of conference wins. But after four losses by an average of 15 points, the prospect of an 0-18 conference season is no longer a long shot that can be safely ignored.