What exactly is there to say about a game in which your team goes 14 minutes and 53 seconds of game time without making a field goal? How do you talk about a game where your team only makes a total of 11 shots from the field?
There’s not much you CAN say. Washington has had a ton of trouble this year, and they have lots of weaknesses. But they still do one thing pretty well: when they can set up their half court zone, plenty of teams have trouble scoring.
And for a team like Cal, that hesitates to attempt open 3s and loves to try to initiate the offense with post entries, UW playing strong zone defense was kryptonite. Most of the game was watching Cal’s guards retreat in the face of ball pressure and attempt entry passes to the post that were doomed before they were attempted amidst a sea of athletic, long armed defenders.
Cal found a bit of success early in the game by getting out a little bit in transition, before the UW defense got set. I drove to the WBB game on Sunday with Reef (who, for the curious, is on a well-deserved writing hiatus), and he pointed out that while the UW halfcourt defense is really tough, there are opportunities to score if teams are willing to push the ball before UW’s young players get organized behind the ball.
Unfortunately, the Bears are categorically against pushing the ball except in the most obvious situations, and so the Cal offense withered and died. The only thing that kept the score looking somewhat normal was that UW’s aggressive closeouts and physical defense led to more than a few fouls, and Cal was solid from the line. Take away those 28 made free throws and Cal only scored 24 points from the field.
Amusingly, Cal actually scored more points (52) in regulation against UW on the road than they did in a win over the Huskies at Haas (49). The difference is that the game in Seattle was faster (70 possessions in regulation vs. 61) and either Cal’s defense was worse or UW shot the ball better. Probably both. I think we would all agree that if you’re only scoring ~50 points in regulation it’s really, really hard to win basketball games - the amazing thing about this season is that Cal has actually pulled off the feat a few times.
An amazing stat
Washington MBB point differential, Pac-12 play: +1
Washington MBB record, Pac-12 play: 3-12
Cal MBB point differential, Pac-12 play: -117
Cal MBB record, Pac-12 play: 5-9
“Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.” - Mel Brooks
WBB falls to Oregon State on Senior Day
For the post-game senior day ceremony, Cal set up a podium on the court for Cal’s five seniors to sit, and the rest of Cal’s roster sat in a row in front of the podium. And for some reason, seeing the roster sitting in that arraignment really hit home the challenge presented to the Bears this year.
On the upper row were Cal’s seniors. Jaelyn Brown, the go-to rock, Cal’s one reliable scoring option. But next to Jaelyn Brown was an increasingly hobbled C.J. West. Next to C.J. was Mi’Cole Cayton, an anticipated key rotation member who missed another season with knee injuries. Next to Mi’Cole was Sara Anastasieska, ravaged throughout her career by injuries and coming back from a concussion against OSU. And next to Sara was Chen Yue, the only other player from the fire person senior class who was consistently healthy.
Below them? One junior, two walk-ons, and four freshmen.
This season was somewhere near a worst-case scenario. You had a roster that spent the previous four years with a gameplan that revolved around a once-in-a-generation player who graduated. Almost the entirety of the veterans left on the roster were injured in some capacity, and even that freshman class was a last second group brought together by a new hire head coach.
And that battered roster was thrown into the fire against what I’m comfortable saying is the toughest Pac-12 conference EVER.
10 years ago, before the Pac-12 became a juggernaut, if this roster stayed healthy they would probably have been a competitive team. But they weren’t healthy, the roster isn’t balanced, and the Pac-12 is entirely unforgiving. And that gets you to 2-14.
For one half, the Bears stayed right with Oregon State, but the fragility was right there. Jaelyn Brown picked up her 2nd foul at the end of the 1st quarter, and sat til halftime. During that quarter, with their only obvious offensive option on the bench, the Bears only managed 8 points. The Bears were only going to be competitive for as long as they could stop OSU from scoring.
Unsurprisingly, the dam burst in the 3rd quarter when OSU coach Scott Rueck benched his stars to make a point about energy and effort after what he saw as a lackluster 1st half from his team. the Beavers exploded for 27 points in that quarter, more than doubling the 25 points they had a half. Cal upped their scoring as well, but just didn’t have the firepower to keep up.
For Cal fans, thoughts will continue to push towards 2020-21, when the 5 star cavalry arrives to augment a bunch of now-freshmen and soon-to-be-sophomores.