Cal Builds, Loses, Big Lead in Loss at Oregon
The Bears hit all the shots until they didn't in a tough defeat in Eugene
Taken in total, Cal’s road game against Oregon was largely very even. Cal turned it over one more time than the Ducks, but pulled down one additional offensive rebound. Oregon shot just two more free throws. Both teams shot roughly 55% on their 2 point shots, and on similar volumes.
The only thing to distinguish each team? Oregon shot 36% on their threes, and Cal shot 25%. That was the difference in the game.
And if you didn’t watch the game, and briefly glanced at the box score, you would note that, and perhaps briefly sigh that worse-than-average deep shooting cost Cal a winnable road game against a good team.
But if you DID watch the game, then you know how the game was sequenced. Here’s the ESPN chart:
And Kenpom’s version:
Our Computer Overlords quibble slightly with exactly how likely Cal was to win the game when they built a 41-23 lead, but the basic story is there: For 16 minutes, Cal was hotter than the sun and Oregon couldn’t hit a 3. Then, for 24 minutes, Oregon was hotter than the sun and Cal couldn’t hit a 3.
Here are the shot splits:
3 POINTERS, FIRST 16 MINUTES:
3 POINTERS, LAST 24 MINUTES:
I didn’t particularly have the impression that Cal’s 3 point shot quality took a nose dive or that Oregon did something to start getting better looks; sometimes the shots go down, sometimes they don’t, and there doesn’t necessarily have to be a rhyme or a reason to it.
As a result, I think there are two ways to view this game. A fan inclined to see the glass as half empty would see the lead Cal built and then lost, and feel frustrated that the Bears couldn’t make that lead stand up. That same fan would note that Cal also had a big lead against ASU and note that Cal could easily be 4-2 in the Pac-12 right now.
Me? I’m focusing on the long term right now. And what matters to me, right now, is that Cal went on the road to play a top half Pac-12 team and played them dead even in every phase of the game except for 3 point shooting, the highest variance part of the game.
Because if the level of effort and execution Cal brought against Oregon is the level of effort and execution Cal brings to every game the rest of the year AND they shoot closer to their season average of 34% from three? That’s a team that could close the season at 9-5 and challenge for a .500 or better conference record.
Why do I think that’s possible*? Because Cal is 2-4 despite having played the 2nd toughest set of conference games and has been competitive in all but one game. Because other than Arizona and maaaaybe Utah, nobody in this conference is really scary and Cal can beat any of them on their night. And because Cal might end up having the conference’s leading scorer on their team, and he’s not just chucking up 30 shots a night to do it.
*Please note that I said possible, not likely. The downside risk is that the Pac-12, while lacking in elite teams, doesn’t have many outright bad teams either, and so for Cal to push for a .500 conference record, they’re probably gonna have to win a bunch of close games.
Notes and Errata:
If Jaylon Tyson is all but guaranteed to put up 20+ efficient points every night, that’s a great base to build an offense on, and the rest of the season may well be defined by the extent to which he gets help. Every time Cal gets a 3 point explosion from Cone or Fardaws can be efficient inside the offense should be in solid shape.
Oregon both historically under Dana Altman and generally this year do a good job of forcing turnovers, but Cal did a great job of taking care of the ball. Cal’s 5 turnovers are the fewest Oregon has forced all year long. Considering Cal’s struggles with turnovers at times this year, it’s an encouraging part of this performance.
Rodney Brown over Cal’s last four games: 31 points on 21 shots, 6 assists to 2 turnovers, and roughly 20 minutes/game. That’s really valuable for a freshman and critical for this team to get at guard now that Devin Askew is out for the season.
Congrats to Devin Curtis for his first points in a Cal uniform - the freshman has recently taken the back-up center role, though his role in the offense has been limited to start his career.
This game marks the end of maybe the most difficult stretch of games this season. Seven of Cal’s next 11 games are at home, and most of them fall into the coin flip category, starting with a three game homestand against Washington, Wazzu, and Stanford.
If the improved play we’ve seen from Cal over these last four games is real and sustainable, the Bears should make some noise at home against beatable opponents. For the first time in years, I’m spending winter weeks counting down the days until the next basketball game. See you all Thursday night.