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WBB Conversations: Cal falls to Stanford in game 2 before a visit from Oregon and Oregon St.

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Reef, pre-game

I’ll say for the record: I’m not expecting to sweep stanford today. All the math says they are not going to shoot that poorly again, and we are not going to shoot that well. They will likely be in the most focused mindset possible, coming home after losing two on the road. I don’t know that we have any answers for the way they run their offense and crash the boards. OTOH, I think Tara would be perfectly happy taking her chances letting Jaelyn Brown be the open shooter again today.

If there were a line it would probably make us double digit underdogs.

And I’m not expecting too much of the next 3 games. Oregon is an absolute juggernaut. It would take the outlier of all outlier shooting nights (on both sides) to even be in the game with them. The Beavers...well....Rueck always seems to have us game planned perfectly.

To be honest, if we get one of the next three games I’d feel pretty good about this stretch. I’m keeping expectations low.

But February is also the symbolic line for me, when I start to shut down my robot brain and start to let emotion take over. That started a little early on Thursday (I guess it was February on the east coast when Asha’s bucket dropped). We’ve only got 6-7 more weeks with this team, and especially these seniors. It’s really just about being in the moment, and letting the chips fall where they may. If we’re a middle of the Pac-12 team, if we’re done in the first round of the NCAA tournament, so be it. I’ll still love and cherish the memories of this team, and especially Thursday night.

However...

What if? We get stanford, Oregon, OSU. I don’t believe in momentum, but I do believe in evolving confidence and play style. What if the perimeter aggression is leading to more shots dropping, and that continues? What if Kristine can take it to an ever higher level?

Kristine said the way they came out against stanford felt different. What if they’ve finally learned to come out and hit people in the mouth?

What if we’ve turned a corner and the best magic is still ahead of us?

I get to be in the stands for these next three epic basketball games. I’ll watch Kristine become our all time leading scorer. Then after that, there are only two more home games.

I root for this team, win or lose, because of how amazing they are as people, how much fun they have on the court, and because I bleed blue and gold. I am going to enjoy and savor every moment, whatever happens, because all too soon these will just be memories. And while I’m at it, I’m going to dream the biggest dreams.

So, yeah, let’s beat stanford today.

Nick, post-game

Alas, you were very, very right. A 25 point defeat that maybe wasn’t even as close as the final score indicated. The Bears came out as flat as I’ve ever seen them play against Stanford, and needless to say the Cardinal came out with their hair on fire, except still with the usual TVDV discipline. It was one of those games where you know what the outcome is going to be in a matter of minutes. At least we had Kristine’s march towards statistical history to give us something to follow as the game ground down to its conclusion.

Still, splitting with Stanford is an unambiguous success. They’re headed for a 2 seed at minimum and represent Cal’s best win by miles. The win revives hope of rising higher than the dreaded 8/9 seed line and remind us that perhaps Cal does have a higher ceiling of performance, even if it is reached only occasionally.

These two games, taken in tandem, are an interesting illustration of variance in sports. More relevantly, they illustrate what Cal needs to win basketball games. Kristine Anigwe is Kristine Anigwe, and will always attract a ton of defensive attention before scoring 20 points and pulling down 20 rebounds anyway. She is the foundation upon which Cal builds a winning performance.

It’s everybody else on the team that determines wins and losses. When Cal’s guards are taking and making 3s, driving to the bucket to force action, and otherwise making plays, Cal can compete with anybody. When those same players are hesitating with open looks, moving the ball indecisively, and losing players on defense, Cal doesn’t stand much of a chance. The Bears will go as far as their guards take them.

Reef, Tuesday

I’ll start with robot again, and conclude that in two games against stanford, we were -24 or, for the math challenged, -12 per game. Which, sadly, is probably a reasonable reflection of the difference in quality between these two teams in 2019. We were fortunate to get a split, but we also saw why this incarnation of Cal basketball *can* be dangerous during a postseason run. Alas, all of the offensive flair we saw on Thursday did not travel down to Palo Alto, and, as you noted and as we’ve said all year, without a dynamic perimeter contribution, we pretty much can’t hang with elite competition. The clear home court advantage at Maples probably played some part in how we came out, so at least we get two at Haas this week.

If I’m trying to find one note of optimism from Saturday, it’s that when our defense decided to kick it into gear in the second quarter, we did manage to disrupt stanford’s cuts and DHOs, occasionally even getting into passing lanes and throwing them off rhythm. So we have it in us, just like we have dynamic offense in us, and the eternal mystery we’ve been wrestling with for years now is why we can’t call it to the surface more consistently. That’s probably a discussion for a season ending post mortem, but I can understand why there is at least some frustration among the fan base when we perform well below our ceiling for long stretches.

So here we are heading into a weekend of great opportunity. Two elite teams on our home court. A chance to build the resume back up. And an opportunity for more memories.

Both Oregon and OSU are elite offensive teams. They’re both also very good defensive teams. I don’t have a lot more nuanced analysis beyond we are going to have to play at the absolute top of our range to even be in these games. I mean, I could break down matchups, but it seems like an exercise in falsely generating hope. I think this week I’d rather just show up at Haas and start yelling. If I overthink it, I’ll just set myself up for disappointment. So I’ll simplify: make shots. Hope the opponent misses shots. Yell like heck when we shock the world again.

Nick, Wednesday

The Oregon game is probably the single game I’ve been dreading the most, thanks solely to Sabrina Ionescu, who has already found two entirely different ways to make my Cal WBB experience miserable. This is very possibly the last time Cal will see the recruit to spurned them only to turn Oregon into an instant Final Four contender, as she’s generally considered one of the rare talents good enough to go pro early in WBB.

Beating the Ducks would be just about the best possible combination between emotionally satisfying and objectively valuable we could come up with. I guess the nice thing is that, win or lose, we’ll be witness to record breaking history as soon as Kristine scores a point.

Oregon State is maybe a bit more getable. The Beavers have played a pretty weak schedule, and have at times struggled with teams (ASU, UCLA) that Cal also played competitive games with. The main challenge with OSU is that almost literally every player in their rotation can shoot the 3. The loss of guard Kat Tudor has made the Beavers a bit more turnover prone, but that’s not really Cal’s thing defensively anyway. Both games will be big tests for Cal’s guards on defense.

We’ve entered the gauntlet, may as well sit back and enjoy the ride.