Reef, Sunday (after win over UNC)
Emotional side first: Yay!
A win in the NCAA Tournament is a win in the NCAA Tournament. After a 1H that was as competitive as we expected, and that was more than a little bit frustrating for all the reasons the season has been frustrating, the Bears came out in the 2H and erased a 3 point deficit with the type of ball we’ve seen a handful of times down the stretch of the season. Defensively, they put together a solid effort throughout, and when UNC’s low value 2p shots stopped falling, so did their scoring. Back to back impressive defensive efforts, first against stanford, then against UNC, has been a welcome change from the poor job they had been doing in the weeks prior.
Then offensively. Wow. After an out of sync first quarter, the explosion was audible all the way in Berkeley. The Bears opened fire with all their weapons, but particularly impressive was the adjustment to recognize UNC is super thin on the front line. They were using what size they did have (basically just Janelle Bailey), along with the usual double and triple team swarm, to frustrate Kristine. Enter CJ West, and a flurry of deep posts ups via over the top entries, precision interior passing, and work on the O boards. UNC had no answer for TWO posts. They just didn’t have the personnel to counter. Bucket after bucket after bucket down low, freeing up wide open shooters, and eventually shaking Kristine loose from the waves of defenders she had been dealing with.
It’s the kind of talent surge we had been hoping to see against mid level competition all season. Instead we had been disappointed with outcomes that were much too close, given our roster. Well, much much better late than never. That beat down is one we’ll remember for awhile.
Now robot: Okay. Good. But this is the kind of win that should have been routine all season. Beating North Carolina by 20 on a neutral floor is akin to beating USC by a dozen in LA, and the good teams have been doing that kind of thing all season. This was a necessary accomplishment, but not a remarkable one. If we had taken care of more of these, we wouldn’t be faced with the Monday reality:
If we lose, this season becomes indistinguishable from the string of seasons past. Another first weekend exit. Or maybe it will be distinguishable -- because this was the last opportunity with the singular talent of Kristine Anigwe.
If we win. Well, if we win, all the years upon years of shattered expectations disappear. If we win, we have a memory for the ages, and the legacy of Mo, and Recee, and Asha, and Kristine suddenly take on a whole new light. If we win the rest of the regional opens before us.
Here it is. One game to define a season, and in some cases a career.
Shock the world.
Nick, Monday Morning
Was blitzing the Tar Heels Cal’s best performance of the year? I doubt it stands up to beating Stanford, or the comeback win over ASU. But for sheer joy in the moment, for the fun of watching an offensive juggernaut roll over an outmatched opponent, of winning an NCAA tournament game without drama, this might have been the performance of the year. Cal’s 1.28 points/possession was the 2nd best offensive performance of the season, beaten only by a home game against moribund Washington. It was also UNC’s 2nd worst defensive performance, beaten only by offensive dynamo Notre Dame.
This is what we look like when everybody’s cooking. 22-37 on two point shots (59%) and 11-26 from behind the arc. Drawing lots of fouls. Rebounding 40% of our misses. Mostly limiting turnovers. Every rotation member with obvious positive offensive contributions. We’ve seen brief glimpses, fantasized about the possibilities. Cal may well fall to Baylor, but at least we can say that for 40 minutes this season we saw the death star Cal offense put it all together.
We’ll all have to decide for ourselves if it was ironic or understandable that this offensive performance came in a game in which Kristine struggled to get going and actually shot below 50% from the field with four turnovers. I know you’ve been calling for more offensive balance all year, hoping that Kristine lets the game come to her a bit more. And at least some of Cal’s early struggles were related to Kristine trying to force the action. Thankfully Coach G made the necessary personnel changes in time to unlock things for a quite spectacular scoring explosion.
I’ve already run through so many different Baylor scenarios in my head, from best case to worst case. I imagine Asha, Recee, Kianna, and Kenzie dropping 3 pointers from every spot on the floor as Kristine wins the rebounding battle against her future WNBA peers, and Cal shocks the world. I imagine . . . scenarios too awful to even dare speak into existence against a team where the margin for error basically doesn’t exist.
More than anything, I want to see this team come out with the confidence and swagger that Friday’s offensive performance earned. I want Kim Mulkey to get close to picking up a technical. I want to hear worried murmurs from Baylor fans expecting a walkover. I want more Cal WBB.
Nick, Tuesday (after loss to Baylor)
Isn’t it weird how we all knew in a specific moment that it wasn’t happening?
Late in the first quarter, with the Bears gamely hanging with the other Bears, Kristine Anigwe picked up her 2nd foul when she went too hard into the body of Lauren Cox as she tried to establish position underneath. Cox made every bit of that contact to draw the offensive foul, Kristine’s 2nd.
And in that moment, I knew whatever slim hopes we had were extinguished. Because against Baylor’s personnel, Cal couldn’t survive without Kristine playing all out, aggressive on both ends. A Kristine playing 15 minutes afraid of a 3rd foul was death.
Now maybe it’s silly to single out any single moment in a comprehensive 40 point beat down. It was inevitable that Baylor was going to figure out Cal’s exaggerated defense, and Cal probably wasn’t going to be scoring on the best defense in the nation regardless. But when you go into a game knowing that all of the little things need to go your way, you know for sure you’re doomed when a BIG thing doesn’t go your way.
I don’t have much experience analyzing 40 point blowouts, so I’m a little bit lost as to what to say and how to say it. Your overall point is correct, and I think we all knew it. I said in the preview that I wouldn’t bet on Cal at +20, and it turned out +35 wouldn’t have been much of a bargain either. When you get dominated in this fashion, what can you really say beyond the simple truth that Baylor was just a far, far better basketball team?
So the analysis I’m going to attempt is -- let’s be clear -- trying to decide which of the lottery tickets was best. We’re talking about squeezing a 1% chance into 3%. We’re talking about what would have been almost a near-inevitable loss regardless of what we did out there. Heck, if they’d given Kristine infinite fouls to use, I still probably wouldn’t bet on Cal +20. Nothing makes up for a 40 point differential.
But here’s what I didn’t understand: Cal’s early offensive game plan was to take the ball into the paint.
Baylor is the #1 2p shooting defense in the nation. They have the best front line Kristine Anigwe has ever faced. And yet somehow, Cal got up one -- ONE -- three point attempt in the first quarter and just four in the first half. Meanwhile, Kristine was 1-8 in the first quarter, and 1-11 in the first half. And here’s the thing. We’ve seen this show before. Game in and game out, we’ve seen Cal open with the game plan of pounding to Kristine. The lesser defenses we’ve played all year were generally geared to stop it. Then, inevitably, our offense opened up in the 3Q, as we started to play inside out. Against lesser defenses, the plan to pound inside generally hasn’t worked, and needed to be modified later in the game. Why would we expect it to work against the best interior defense in the nation? I wondered, as we approached tip off, whether this was the game where we recognized that underdog theory necessitated opening up the path to the most variance. A break from the norm. As it turned out, no. This was game planned like any other opponent.
In the pregame, coach said that everyone was going to think our Bears were crazy for believing they could win this game, because nobody else could hear their music. Well, it’s true. I didn’t hear that particular tune at all.
To be fair, playing inside out and bombing probably wasn’t going to get a win. Like I said, what’s the difference between 1% and 3%? And maybe the idea was to get our variance inside -- Kristine goes off, the Baylor frontcourt gets into foul trouble, and all of a sudden it’s a close game. After all, stanford beat this team because the Baylor frontcourt was a non-factor (albeit because Mulkey was trying to make a point and took them out herself). Certainly, the refereeing variance was not in our favor. So I dunno. Maybe coach’s game plan really was the way to maximize EV. When you’re playing a 1 seed, you can never really be sure. All I do know is what most big NCAA upsets look like, and they generally rest on spectacular outside shooting, and we didn’t give ourselves a chance at that. What I heard was the same tune I heard most of the year. And the song ended the same way.
To take a step back from the minutiae of a game we were almost certainly going to lose regardless, the real shame of the night was that we were playing a 1 seed at all. As we saw in the 2nd round, Pac-12 teams who didn’t have to play a 1 seed did quite well for themselves. Thus, the real problem with the Baylor game was being there in the first place. But that is a song for another day. We’ve got all offseason to talk about it.
Yeah. I don’t want to plagiarize myself from our upcoming end-of-season review, but I’m of two minds. On one hand, I had resigned myself a few weeks ago to the strong probability that Cal’s season would end in the 2nd round on the home floor of one of college basketball’s elites. So the fact that we got one wonderful performance out of the Bears before that inevitability feels like a nice little bonus. On the other hand, resigning myself to this eventuality of losing to Baylor is different from being happy about it, and the way it happened was more disheartening than expected.
It’s nice, I guess, to see the Pac-12 go 11-1 in the NCAA tournament, confirming what we already knew about the quality of the conference. But it’s not fun being the ‘1’ in that stat line while five conference mates are still dancing. It’s nice to make the round of 32 and get a win in style. But it’s not fun to lose that game by 39, a larger margin than any other round of 32 game. It’s fun that Cal has made the NCAA tournament in eight of nine years under Lindsay Gottlieb.
It’s not fun that Kristine Anigwe leaves Berkeley with a 2-3 record in the NCAA tournament.