Bombs away, then cross your fingers

Cal men's basketball is undermanned, but far from helpless, as demonstrated in a narrow loss to UCLA

If you want to build a basketball team that can play at a high level, night in and night out, there are a few avenues you can try.

Maybe you build an uber-athletic team full of players who can get to the rim on one end and play defense on the other end. Your team racks up layups and fouls on offense, and cuts off driving lanes and blocks or alters a bunch of shots on the other end. Having a massive advantage in 2 point shooting is a great way to build a consistent winner.

Maybe you want to focus on winning the shot volume game. Your team is going to be disciplined and burly on both ends, and you regularly commit fewer turnovers and grab more rebounds. Even if you suffer a bad shooting night, you’re going to get up so many more shots than your opponent that you’ll stay in every game.

But those teams are hard to build. If you’re one of the roughly 300 or so teams that can’t build that kind of roster, there are worse options than building a team with a bunch of shooters and letting them bomb away all game long.

On this particular night, Cal lost the shot volume battle (though narrowly) and got crushed on 2 point shots (48% to 36%). If you look at every line of the box score but one, this game looked like a blow out. But that one line is the great basketball equalizer:

3 point shooting
Cal: 10-22
UCLA: 4-10

If you can sink 10 three pointers in a slow, 63 possession game, that can paper over all kinds of disadvantages that would ordinarily prove decisive.

If anything, you could argue that the Bears didn’t attempt enough 3 pointers. Cal finished a miserable 11-31 inside the arc. Jared Hyder, Andre Kelly, and Grant Anticevich combined for a solid 10-19 on 2 point shots. The rest of Cal’s lineup? 1-12. Do you prefer your numbers rendered in per/possession form? Sure: On 3 point shots, Cal earned 1.36 points shot. On 2 point shots, Cal earned 0.71. Three point shots were nearly twice as valuable.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. UCLA extended their defense out a bit towards the end of the game, and Cal only got off one 3 point attempt in their final five possessions, and that from a player (Hyder) who hasn’t proven himself as an outside shooter yet in his college career.

And so, after Grant Anticevich gave Cal a 1 point lead after nailing what turned out to be the last Bear 3 of the game, UCLA went on a 7-2 run to earn the win. Shooting may be the great equalizer, but by itself it will often be not quite enough.

Grant Anticevich, cult hero

Even if the medical danger may have been exaggerated for dramatic effect (Bill Walton would never embellish anything, would he?!):

21 points on 14 shots vs. Pepperdine, 18 points on 12 shots vs. USF, 14 points on 10 shots vs. Utah, and 21 points on 11 shots vs. UCLA, plus he’s been flashing impressive passing from a forward.

Of course, I’m not joining the cult of Grant Anticevich just because he’s good at basketball. I’m also joining because he’s perhaps the most unassuming player I can recall coming through Berkeley, who plays basketball with the same attitude he uses to describe emergency-room-worthy pain and emergency surgery: with a shrug and an aww shucks.

With Matt Bradley on the shelf, the formerly completely unknown recruit is Cal’s best player, and his play has been the primary reason that the Bears have gone 2-3 and nearly snuck out another win against UCLA.

On refs and unusual game states

This was by far the fastest game I’ve watched in recent memory, ending at 7:48 after a 6:05 tip. The game was fast primarily because of a refreshing lack of fouls and free throws. This may have also contributed to an odd situation that further helped the game end quickly, though not to Cal’s advantage.

The first half was normal enough - 14 total fouls, 13 combined free throw attempts. The 2nd half? 10, and 6. When the game clock ticked inside two minutes to play, Cal had racked up four team fouls, UCLA just one. There was a 10 minute stretch with just one called foul, and the 2nd half FLEW by as a result.

I don’t think this was the result of particularly permissive refs. The game was slow, which helped reduce the number of possessions in which to foul. Cal’s jump shooting tendencies and general preference to get back on defense and not contest for offensive boards helped. It just wasn’t a rough game.

This led to an odd situation where all of a sudden UCLA had the ball, up 4 points, with 1:05 left on the clock and Cal still had two fouls to give before UCLA would have to go to the line. I think the best strategic decision would have been to ramp up the defensive pressure, and use those two free fouls to try to force a turnover, then attempt to foul a weaker UCLA shooter to send them to the line for a 1-and-1, and try to get the ball back with 45-50 seconds left on the clock.

That isn’t what happened, as Cal elected to try to play defense. UCLA ran 24 seconds off the clock before shooting, got their own rebound, then ran off another 17 seconds before shooting again. Though they ended the possession without any points, they erased 41 of the remaining 65 seconds left in the game, far too few for Cal to mount a comeback.

Worse, when Cal managed to score to cut the lead to just 2 points, Cal still needed to foul multiple times to send UCLA to the line, which ended up allowing UCLA to shave a few more seconds off. As it is, UCLA’s Johnny Juzang hit his free throws, but even if he had missed any Cal only had 8 seconds to get the ball up court.

UCLA probably wins this game either way, but letting so much time run off the clock definitely cut into Cal’s chances to make up the deficit.

Don’t count on weekend basketball

Apparently we’re proceeding as if it’s possible that USC can resolve a COVID situation in a couple of days. Color me skeptical, they should probably forfeit for the sake of fairness.