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Recap: Bradley, Bears beat Bulldogs

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Cal’s guard goes for 24 points as the Bears hang on for the 69-63 win

NCAA Basketball: Washington at California
Still the best picture of Matt in our photo editor so HERE IT IS AGAIN!
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

For the first 15 minutes of the game, I was disgruntled. Why? Here’s why:

Cal 1st half shot chart

That’s Cal’s first half shot chart. Not pictured on the image are Cal’s 13 shots at the basket. So, here’s the rough breakdown of Cal’s first half shooting:

Dunks/layups: 9-13
Other 2s: 3-10
Threes: 2-4

But it’s worth noting that five of Cal’s made layups or threes came in the final 5 minutes of the first half. For the first 15 minutes of the game, something like half of Cal’s shots from the field were other 2 point shots. Cal’s shot selection was AWFUL, even by the standards of a team and offensive scheme that probably isn’t going to have a very good shot selection pattern by modern standards.

On one particularly egregious sequence, Matt Bradley and Kareem South both passed up opportunities to either shoot open 3 pointers or drive the basket before Cal later settled for a long 2 point jumper that missed. I started to despair that another low scoring defeat was coming. A bunch of the bad jumpers weren’t even late shot clock concessions, and a bunch of them missed badly.

But as noted above, the Bears finally woke up and started taking better shots late in the first half. And because Fresno St. was having a pretty ugly shooting night themselves, Cal’s early struggles didn’t hurt too much.

And in the 2nd half?

2nd half shot chart

Hey, that’s only 4 or 5 shots that made me yell at my TV screen rather than 8 or 9! More importantly, Cal finally started to take open 3s and benefit, and continued attacking the basket to the tune of 4-5 shooting at the rim and 8 FTs earned (vs. just 2 freebies in the first half.) It wasn’t exactly an exhibition of scintillating, modern basketball, and Cal regressed to some of their early game issues from time to time. But it met the baseline expectation of competence needed for this team to win home games against teams like Fresno State. And after the last two games, that’s something.

Meanwhile, I’m not sure what to make of Cal’s defense in part because Fresno State is a team in a partial rebuild, and they came out with a vastly different offensive game plan. Fresno usually takes more than half their shots from three, but took only 34% from deep against Cal. That kind of drastic change in offensive philosophy had to have been intentional, and presumably a response to Fresno’s poor shooting to start the year. But the Bulldogs didn’t seem to be particularly clear on what they wanted to do with the ball instead.

The result was a really slow tempo game where the Bulldogs managed to get solid efficiency on offense thanks to a bunch of o-boards from Nate Grimes and just enough finishing/drawn fouls from their increased attempts to drive the basketball. As Reef noted on twitter, there were still issues with point of attack defense that played a role in Fresno’s occasional success at the basket, but by and large the Bulldogs struggled to generate good looks.

Various Notes

  • I take exception to much of the old school stuff that Monty says as a color guy, but his larger point that Cal needs to find ways to get Matt Bradley and Kareem South opportunities to shoot or create shots is dead on. Bradley and South had 25 of Cal’s 37 2nd half points, and there were portions of the 2nd half where it was basically just the Bradley show. Taking his man off the dribble, creating space and stepping back into a 3, hitting shots as a catch and shoot option - he’s just a natural scorer and the reality is that with Cal’s limited offensive options the Bears will probably run hot and cold right with Bradley’s scoring and Cal’s ability to create opportunities for him.
  • After getting beaten up on the glass by a team that hadn’t rebounded particularly well, it’s officially time to sound the alarm bell about Cal’s rebounding on both ends. Allowing Fresno St. to rebound 40% of their own misses is not great Bob. That Cal hasn’t been a good offensive rebounding team isn’t a surprise or necessarily a problem. That Cal is consistently leaking 2nd chance opportunities is. Anticevich and Kelly are both decent enough rebounders for their size, but Thiemann is struggling badly to secure defensive rebounds, none of the guards are particularly great at helping out, and evidently DJ Thorpe and Kuany Kuany just aren’t going to be getting playing time as true freshman. This is probably who the Bears are going to be this year on the glass.
  • Following up on the last point above - all of Fox’s freshmen recruits have seen their playing time diminish as the season has moved forward. Fox only played two (Thiemann and Joel Brown) for a combined 24 minutes against Fresno. On one hand, it makes sense that freshmen might get more playing time against weaker teams on the schedule and then sit more as the schedule gets tougher. On the other hand, you would also hope that as the freshmen get more practice time and get more accustomed to D1 basketball that they might start to improve and get more playing time, a la Connor Vanover last year. Still early days, but for the long term health of the program it would be really comforting if one or more of Fox’s five recruits started flashing on-court potential.

Only three non-conference games remain on Cal’s schedule before Pac-12 play starts in Palo Alto. Next up is a tough St. Mary’s team with a typically excellent Randy Bennett offense that should be a good test of Cal’s readiness (or not) to play Pac-12 level defense.