- Win over Washington 71 - 65
- Win over WSU 80 - 58 (Kristine Anigwe scores 32 points to go with 30 rebounds)
Currently: 18-11 (9-9, T-6th in Pac-12); RPI = 38
Upcoming (Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas):
- 7 California vs 10 WSU, 6pm Thursday, March 7, Pac-12 Network
- (7 vs 10) winner vs 2 stanford, 6pm Friday, March 8, Pac-12 Network
- Semifinal, 8:30pm Saturday, March 9, Pac-12 Network
- Championship, 5pm Sunday, March 10, ESPN2
Reef, Friday (March 1!) Pregame
A pregame note about the delightful weirdness that is (now officially) March Madness. We’re playing a must win against a team that we should beat easily. The only team they’ve beaten in conference is Colorado. There’s absolutely no upside to a win, but a ton of downside to a loss. But we have to go on the road. Where we’ve under-performed all year. With the knowledge that in the first matchup with Washington earlier this year at Haas, we were losing by 2 at the start of the 4th quarter.
And so March has its own built in drama, every game, regardless of opponent. It all matters. It’s all magnified. I would like to see a stress free victory tonight, but I am not at all expecting to get one.
This is the month. Just win.
Nick, Friday Postgame
I mean, by Cal standards that kinda was a stress free victory, even though Washington had the ball down just 4 points with a bit more than a minute left on the clock.
Lack of drama just isn’t really our thing. It really did look like the Bears were going to cruise when they opened the 2nd half by scoring 16 points in 7 possessions, but of course we followed that up with largely ineffective offense for the rest of the half before UW had to start fouling us. I guess I should just be grateful for that four minute stretch of basketball, because it did basically win us the game.
Reef, Sunday Pregame
There’s two parts of my basketball fandom, and they REALLY clash in March, especially with this team. On the one hand, oy, the data is pretty clear. Washington put up 1.08ppp against us...and the last time they were over 1.0 was...wait for it...9 games ago against...us at Haas. Our defense hasn’t proven to be anywhere near championship quality, or even minimally competent, to be honest. So we have to outscore people -- which we did in the early 2H conflagration you mentioned. That’s not a recipe for consistent success, especially against higher end teams, and we’re seeing this reality reflected in our conference record.
On the other hand, it’s March and a win is a win. We’re on a three game streak, and I suppose we can at least take some solace in the fact Washington never got within a possession in the last 10 minutes. With an elite offense, we can explode at any time, and maybe that will make for an exciting and deep postseason run.
We’re now locked into a 7-10 matchup with WSU in the 1st round of the Pac-12 tournament, making today’s game a preview? A warm-up? A trap?
Let’s frame it this way. A loss would take a big bite out of our NCAA seeding. It would probably take us down a seed line. stanford beat the Cougars by 25 on Friday. I suppose I should stop being fooled into wishing for things that we haven’t really delivered all year, but I’m hoping for something approximating that today. A double digit win. Clear domination. WSU has some shooters, but no one who, on paper, should be a huge problem off the dribble. Maybe that’s famous last words.
Well, that was pretty clear domination.
I suppose if you’re looking for a reason why you shouldn’t be nervous about Cal’s rematch with Washington State on Thursday, the obvious reason would be that the Cougars don’t have any players with a prayer of slowing down Kristine Anigwe. She went for 29 points and 23 rebounds against WSU in mid-January . . . and that was her statistically weaker performance. When you can tip off a game knowing that you have a massive, virtually guaranteed physical advantage in terms of inside scoring and rebounding on both ends, it gives you a pretty massive leg up.
And since we’re talking about a sort of weird game to talk about from a season narrative perspective, we can also enjoy the 30-for-30 gift Kristine has bestowed upon us. As you pointed out on twitter, Kristine’s raw stats are somewhat inflated because she’s not competing with anybody else on her own team for rebounds, and that effect was only magnified without sharing any court time with the injured CJ West. Kristine’s mindset is so focused on going and getting loose balls that she unknowingly stole a few rebounds away from various guards who were in position before Kristine and her amazing wingspan came swooping over the top.
Washington State, like Cal, kinda only has one interior post presence with any size or rebounding instinct, but Maria Kostourkova wasn’t going to be playing 40 minutes and wasn’t going to be able to hold up to Kristine’s sheer willpower. Combine that with Washington State probably missing more than their fair share of shots and you get a game tailor made to rack up video game numbers.
BTW, is anybody else a little bit disappointed that Kristine ended up with 32 points rather than the symmetrical 30? Oh, human minds and our search for patterns.
From a team perspective, this was basically Cal’s 8th straight game scoring a point/posession or better. This was also their 2nd most efficient game of the season, bested only by that game against Colorado when they shot 79% from 3. The offense has been peaking for a while now, and I think we’re all excited to see just how far that can carry us, defensive problems be damned.
Sometimes I jump too reflexively into analysis, especially when I’m watching on TV. I forget to appreciate the basketball. That’s why I have season tickets -- to regularly remind myself of the joy of simply watching the basketball. So I’ll say this, before switching to robot mode:
A 30/30 game is absolutely ridiculous.
Regardless of circumstance -- opponent, available personnel, situation -- human beings playing Division 1 basketball simply aren’t supposed to score 30+ points and secure 30+ rebounds. It’s just too freakin’ hard.
One thing we’ve seen from Kristine Anigwe is she is capable of impossible performances against overmatched competition. When she has a physical advantage, she destroys teams. A couple years ago I was not entirely enthusiastic about her 50 point game vs Sac State, because it was against players who didn’t belong on the court with her, and it was not even remotely replicable in the subsequent Pac-12 season, when we went 6-12. But it was still a 50 point game, and those just don’t happen.
We will only have one more (possible) opportunity to see Kristine physically overwhelm an opponent in that fashion again. There will come a time, soon enough, when a weak opponent gives us trouble, and I will remember her casual dominance and regret that we don’t have it to fuel easy games like we had Sunday. I’m not sure we will ever have another player who can so easily and completely physically crush an opponent as Kristine does. I’m trying to appreciate the memory while it’s still fresh.
That said, I’m cautious about getting too excited about that road sweep. We had to do it to prevent disaster. We were expected to do it. We did it. Nice job -- now let’s get down to business.
If I have a worry about WSU on Thursday, it’s that if I were coaching them, I sure as heck wouldn’t show my best stuff during a meaningless regular season game. I’d save it for the game that matters. And I’d be confident the WSU players aren’t shooting 25% from three again. I’d know I can keep it close against superior competition if I can heat up from three.
That said, I’m not *really* worried about Thursday. We are so physically dominant, and so locked in offensively. The only way the Cougars have a ghost of a chance is if they make all their threes. I doubt that’ll happen.
Then the real fun begins.
The problem during Kristine Anigwe’s entire career, and it remains the problem on the heels of 30/30, is that her brilliance has not translated into wins. In that way, her Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Award is appropriately fitting punctuation to the end of a strange 4 year career. Kristine has been a great defender this year. The best we’ve ever seen from her. Meanwhile, the Cal defense has been awful. Her individual brilliance has not led to team success on the defensive front.
I don’t put that on her--at least not entirely so--but whomever you want to blame, the harsh reality has been the Anigwe train works primarily against weak teams. We’ve seen it over and over. Then when we’ve gotten to stiffer competition, with players and game plans that can limit Kristine’s damage, we haven’t had answers. We haven’t had enough depth, flexibility, resourcefulness, toughness...to find a way to take advantage of Kristine’s gravity, fight through her frustration, and get Ws. At least not very many of them.
March is fun because of the uncertainty and the possibility. We could end up playing 10 more games. Or 2. And we just have no idea right now. March is where narratives are written, or in this case, where the Kristine Anigwe narrative can be re-written. However, I’m not sure whether Sunday’s action was much of a portent one way or the other. Our perimeter was assertive early, which opened up some inside action for Kristine. But they fell asleep a bit later on, and our new found floor balance wasn’t fully on display for much of the second half. Kristine’s rebounding was dominant, but against a horrid Cougar front line, and while missing CJ West, whose status is unknown, and who will need to provide needed frontcourt and defensive depth in the weeks to come.
It’s going to be tremendously difficult to advance in the next several weeks without a fully balanced attack, and without a complete roster. Whether these things materialize is anybody’s guess. That what makes March fun. And scary.
I’m flying to Vegas Thursday night, and there’s a possibility I won’t even get to watch Cal play a single game. I might also watch them play three games. Nobody knows, and that’s why we watch. Because so often we leave heartbroken, but when we don’t, the journey becomes all the sweeter. Stay tuned. This could be special.