To the extent that you can ever ‘expect’ to win a road game, this was that game. Cal had already beaten the Cougars in reasonably decisive fashion in Berkeley. Washington State is not yet a good basketball team, and they were without their 2nd leading scorer, Isaac Bonton. And the Bears did just that - they played a solid game, built a lead, withstood a WSU run, and won a game against a bad, weakened opponent on the road.
The prior paragraph is a normal basketball thing you write about a normal basketball team. I couldn’t have written that paragraph in either of the last two years. It’s somewhat exciting to say that Cal is gradually becoming a normal basketball team again.
What exactly did the Bears do to take advantage of a bit of good fortune? They made a team without much shooting miss a ton of shots. Washington State shot 35% on their 2 pointers and 22% on their 3 pointers, and only a whistle happy ref (39 combined 2nd half free throw attempts!) kept WSU’s offense afloat. It was Cal’s best defensive performance since they held Stanford to 50 points back in January.
Paris Austin was the star performer, but not necessarily because he led Cal in scoring. No, Paris Austin may have been Cal’s most influential defender. He spent a lot of time marking CJ Elleby, who was a miserable 4-18 from the field with 3 turnovers. Austin also chipped in with a couple steals and 8 important defensive rebounds, and when the game devolved into a ref-led foul fest, Austin was the perfect guy to drive the lane and take advantage of the inanity.
The other star performer was Andre Kelly, who went 8-10 from the field and was Cal’s only threat as an offensive rebounder. Against WSU’s undersized lineup he was always a solid pick to have an efficient day inside, and he came through with just that kind of performance.
- I obliquely referenced the refs above, and it was pretty bad, though I don’t think it made a difference in the final outcome, and think on the whole Cal got the better end of the whistles. There were 11 combined fouls called in the first half . . . and a miserable 29 in the second half. If you’re doing the math, that comes down to a whistle every 41 seconds of game action. For what it’s worth, only 3 of those 29 fouls were late game intentional fouls. And I can’t say that I thought the game was particularly physical while I was watching, or particularly different after halftime. I can’t really make heads or tails of it.
- As conference play has gone on, Mark Fox has increasingly tightened his rotation, and against WSU only 15 combined minutes went to players outside of the core six man rotation of Bradley, Austin, Brown, Anticevich, Kelly, and South.
- The first 15 minutes of this game may have been the best stretch of basketball the Bears have played all season long. After 22 possessions the Bears led 30-13 and against a turnover forcing defense had coughed up the ball just twice. And one of those was an iffy offensive foul on Andre Kelly!
The Bears face the basketball world’s personification of Murphy’s Law next - the snakebit, unlucky, destitute Washington Huskies. Despite a top 10 recruiting class and a coach with back-to-back Pac-12 coach of the year awards, Washington shockingly sits at 2-11 in the Pac-12, a full three games behind our Bears. Not for nothing, but a win would clinch a finish better than last place for the first time in three years for the Bears, and would be a nice marker of progress in year one under Mark Fox.