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WBB Conversations: A reckoning before Senior Day

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The Bears suffer a comprehensive road sweep to UCLA and USC, as a once promising season takes another unfortunate turn

@Calwbball twitter

Snapshot

  • Lost to USC 86 - 76
  • Lost to UCLA 80 - 74

Currently: 14-11 (5-9, T-8th in Pac-12); RPI = 46

Upcoming:

  • vs. ASU, 7pm Friday, February 22, TV = Pac-12 Networks
  • vs. Arizona, 2pm Sunday, February 24, No TV, livestream only

Reef, Friday night (Or was it Saturday morning?!)

That was one I am quite literally losing sleep over. What a terrible, terrible loss.

After yet another awful defensive effort, including a complete failure to get back in transition, coupled with an implosion in offensive execution down the stretch, culminating in a bad loss to a (theoretically inferior) conference foe...

...has the season jumped the shark? What are we even hoping for at this point?

Nick, Sunday morning

Cal allowed USC to score 86 points after allowing 59 points earlier in the season. Even taking into account a faster paced game, and playing on the road, it’s still a simple and stark illustration of how Cal’s defense has not only failed to improve as the season has gone along, but if anything has perhaps gotten worse. USC SHOT 30-48 ON 2 POINT SHOTS!!! USC scored on 7 of their first 8 possessions, and the only failed possession was an unforced turnover in transition. There were portions of the game where Cal played some of the worst defense I’ve seen in my decade of following the team closely. In the 1st and 4th quarters we allowed one of the weaker offenses in the conference to score like Oregon. I don’t really know how to explain it.

Right now, Cal sits at 5-8 in conference play. Even if the Bears managed to win out, they would finish the season 10-8. That’s one game worse than last year’s 11-7 mark, and I don’t think anybody particularly expects the Bears to race through UCLA, Arizona, and ASU perfectly. Failing to better last year’s performance in a season that was explicitly presented as ‘the year’ both inside the program and among fan and media . . . it stings. This isn’t how Asha and Kristine’s senior seasons are supposed to go.

I guess there’s still time to salvage good feelings out of this season. But other than a shooting-fueled, buzzer-beater win over Stanford Cal has given us little indication that they can beat NCAA locks, let alone NCAA bubble teams like UCLA and ASU.

So yeah, I’m discouraged.

Reef, Sunday pre-game

At some point you keep losing, you’re 5-8, you can’t execute defensive fundamentals regardless of opponent...and even us die hard Blues have to acknowledge: we are who our record says we are.

I do want to point out we did face a little bit of bad luck on Friday, particularly the normally mediocre Mazyck playing like Cheryl Miller, and a few key whistles that went unfairly against us, especially on Kristine. But overwhelmingly, we were outplayed and deserved to lose that game. The lack of transition defense alone was probably enough. But on top of that, I’m tired of seeing teams able to take straight lines to the basket right through our defense...and what in holy heck were we doing offensively down the stretch?

The disappointing taste in my mouth is not just because our season outlook appears so bleak, but it’s a direct result of the fact WE PLAYED HORRIBLE BASKETBALL.

I want -- I need -- to see us compete at a higher level today. Whatever happens, let’s see some good basketball at Pauley. At least that way I’ll be able to sleep tonight.

Nick, three days of pondering the folly of sports fandom later

I guess Cal did end up competing at a higher level against UCLA, but that higher level wasn’t enough to win the game.

Stop me if you’ve heard this story before: The Bears came out flat, played long stretches of bad defense in the 1st half, mounted a 2nd half comeback, but had their execution falter in crunch time when they had a chance to steal the win. I think this has happened roughly 7 times this season.

This weekend was the death knell to what little optimism we could muster from a 1-3 stretch vs. top 10 teams. Whatever resume value the Bears garnered from a win over Stanford has been sacrificed thanks to two more losses to borderline NCAA teams, which means that Cal also needs to be considered a borderline NCAA team. For whatever joy I’m getting out of the Kristine Anigwe show (and I’m actually enjoying that a ton) it’s hard to come to any conclusion other than this year has been a failure barring a completely unexpected late season post-season run. If you have a senior destined to be a first round draft pick and plenty of other talent and experience on the roster and fail to even make the NCAA tournament (which is on the table) there’s no other description to use if you’re being remotely unbiased. And it’s destroying me to type this out.

I’m pretty sure you have some thoughts on our defense, so I’ll set you up for it. Cal again had a pretty excellent offensive day, despite some turnover related hiccups. In 14 conference games, UCLA has only allowed more points/possession against Stanford, Oregon, OSU, and Utah, and two of those games were on the road. But Cal’s defense was again ghastly, which is what has to happen to have a pretty excellent offensive game and still somehow lose by 6 points.

Reef, Wednesday

We’ve both been avoiding this for three days, because I think we’re both feeling the same way. Disbelief that a team we were both so excited about is somehow 5-9, and has lost 5 straight since that epic win over stanford. And not wanting to write about it because this was supposed to be a labor of love, and instead it’s turned into an exercise in reliving nightmares that are still fresh in our memories.

That’s one of the differences between standard reportage, where one is paid to produce content about an event or a team...vs what we do, which is take our crazy fanaticism and turn that into love letters we can share with a community. So when the fan experience turns into a horror movie, you’re left with where we are now. Despondent. Trying to write objectively, but really in a limbo between dispassionately examining the train wreck while still looking for reasons to delude ourselves.

Both LA games left me with gaping wounds. I don’t even want to queue up the UCLA tape because that one is still too fresh. So I’ll just make a few observations that stand out to me.

  • It’s not acceptable for a veteran basketball team to lose focus the way they did when UCLA went on the 16-2 run in the 2Q that essentially cost us the game. 7 turnovers in 5:00 of game action? It was a frightening display, and a dreadful indictment of everyone involved, coaches and players alike.
  • I think there’s a tendency to make too much of late game coin flip outcomes, and interpret them retroactively through the lens of “poise” or “clutch.” To be sure, we did not come up with many good plays down the stretch of either LA game, and the other teams did. But it will take a much larger sample size to convince me there’s something inherently wrong with the clutch gene of this squad. I think we’ve been the unfortunate victims of the variance monster, and past outcomes do not necessarily dictate future returns. However, be that as it may, that doesn’t change the pain we’re feeling, or the reality that those losses go on our record. (Where we really lost that game was in the aforementioned 2Q stretch when we lost our minds, not in that painful 4Q endgame.)
  • We’ve talked on Twitter, and in this space, about our defensive nightmares, but I simply don’t have the heart to rehash all of it again. I’ll give you the one stat that sums it all up. Currently the California Golden Bears are 329th out of 351 NCAA D1 teams in (unadjusted) defensive efficiency. For a team with more than enough athletic prowess to be competent defensively...including 4 McDonald’s All-Americans...including 5 upperclasswomen in the regular rotation...including one of the best interior defenders in the conference. For a team of our caliber to be bottom 25 in the country is amazingly, awfully, embarrassingly bad. And we saw why again on Sunday. Again failing to stop transition. Or stop straight line drives to the basket. Or box out. I could be more specific and detailed, but I don’t have the stomach for it. 329th in the nation is truly horrific. I’ll leave it at that.

So. I guess I’ll attempt to end on an up note. We showed we can play with ASU the first time around. We can, and probably should beat them at home on Friday. Ditto Arizona. We’re down to 46 RPI and a 10 seed in Charlie Creme’s bracketology. We don’t have time to screw around anymore. We didn’t have time last week, and we messed it up anyway, and now the situation is even more urgent. But forget the postseason situation, forget analytic or schematic nuance, let’s get down to brass tacks. These are the last two times we will see Recee Caldwell, Mo Mosley, Asha Thomas, and the great Kristine Anigwe suit up at Haas Pavilion. We cannot, and should not, and -- I’ll just say it -- WILL NOT lose on their last weekend at home. We just won’t. I don’t care how many rational reasons there are to be cautious. I don’t care how low my emotional state is.

We aren’t losing on senior weekend. We’re going to win for these special, special players. Period. Take it to the bank.