Cal falls to UCLA despite Andre Kelly career game
Without scoring outside their lead forward, the Bears fall to #5 UCLA
On Thursday, a surprisingly strong offensive effort kept the Bears hanging around against a top-10 team, but Cal ultimately couldn’t get enough defensive stops to create a real chance to win.
On Saturday, an unsurprisingly strong defensive effort kept the Bears hanging around against a top-10 team, but Cal ultimately couldn’t get enough buckets to create a real chance to win.
Perhaps most frustratingly of all, Cal couldn’t take advantage of a brilliant game from Andre Kelly, who went 11-14 from the field and all but singlehandedly kept Cal’s offense afloat and kept Cal in the game. The rest of Cal’s roster went 11-29 on 2 pointers and 1-14 on 3 pointers. Those shooting numbers plus 15 turnovers were too much to overcome even though Cal held UCLA to their 2nd worst offensive performance of the season*.
To credit UCLA, the Bruins came out with perhaps a more exaggerated defense than they might usually employ. UCLA extended out beyond the three point line and made a concerted effort to bother Cal’s ball-handlers. As a consequence, there was more room for Andre to operate inside, and he took full advantage. But Cal struggled to get good looks anywhere else on the court, struggled at times to initiate offense, and the outcome reflects that.
On the defensive side of the ball, Cal did a much better job keeping UCLA off the defensive glass, and forced UCLA to settle for more than their fair share of jumpers. More than anything else, Cal enforced their style on UCLA, and it kept this game close longer than UCLA would have wanted despite Cal’s offensive struggles.
*Gonzaga is the only other team that has held UCLA to less than a point/possession this season.
A non-comprehensive list of things that are awesome about this play:
The speed and authority with which Kelly gets up and throws down - a super quick catch, load, leap, and flush almost before anybody on UCLA can react.
UCLA’s defender on Kelly, so worried about trying to defend the pick and roll that he thinks is coming, letting Andre run into the lane unguarded.
UCLA’s help defender, giving up 5 inches and 50 pounds, trying and failing to contest the dunk.
The stylish one-hand rim hang and swing back towards the other end from Andre
I’m just going to quote myself from Thursday’s game for brevity’s sake:
I don’t want to complain about Mark Fox’s coaching . . . [b]ut his end-game decision making has never been something I’ve been very fond of, and today’s was an egregious example.
With 1:47 left, Cal trailed by 8, and had committed 7 team fouls. Rather than sending UCLA to the foul line, Cal tried to play defense. UCLA ran off 22 seconds . . . and drew an unintentional foul. UCLA then missed the front end of the 1-and-1 that Cal could have made UCLA attempt 20 seconds ago.
After an empty Cal possession, the Bears again elected to let UCLA run clock, and the Bruins eliminated another 27 seconds from the game. Again Cal accidentally fouled at the end of the shot clock, but this time UCLA hit their free throws.
After doing not much to try to win the game and letting UCLA run off nearly half of the time remaining in the game, Cal started running a pressure defense and intentionally fouled.
To which I must ask: Are we still trying to win the game, or are we conceding the game to our opponent? For a solid minute Cal let UCLA run clock, then with less time remaining and the same deficit, started pressuring and fouling. Why wait? What’s the point? I don’t get it!
I listened to the entire broadcast, the video of the post-game press conference, searched twitter and all Cal news sites, and all I can find about Sam Alajiki is that he’s out with an ‘undisclosed injury.’ Do with that information what you will.
Without Alajiki, Obinna Anyanwu got nine minutes off the bench. His offensive impact was minimal, though he did make a nice baseline cut for a lay-in. More relevantly, he looked more composed and in control on defense, when prior cameos saw him expend plenty of energy but occasionally get out of position.
Maybe the most aggressively confident game I’ve seen from Kuany Kuany, who actively, frequently looked for his own shot inside the arc for the first time in his career. He had six attempted two pointers in this game alone after totaling just 18 in his prior 13 games!
The one downside to relying on an interior player as a lead scorer? UCLA was able to force a bunch of turnovers on attempted entry passes to Kelly inside. It does take a bit of the shine off of Kelly’s 11-14 shooting line, but I don’t think Cal has any other choice, beyond trying to be crisper with those passes.
After the game Mark Fox was asked what was a bigger problem: Cal’s lack of free throws, or Cal’s lack of three point shooting. Here’s Fox’s answer:
Oh, 1000% the free throw line . . . the free throw line is something we have to have, and we didn’t get there.
Cal is currently 284th in the nation in offensive free throw rate, which absolutely makes sense - when only one guy on your team (Kelly) is consistently shooting inside and the rest of your team largely settles for jumpers (both mid-range and from three) you’re just not going to draw fouls. And so I’m a little confused that Fox would so emphasize drawing fouls based on the kind of shots his offense has been selecting all season long.
Again, I’m going to plagiarize myself from Thursday’s game:
But ultimately, this season was never going to be about competing with teams on
USC’sUCLA’s level. This stretch of the season is going to be rough, but the games that will actually tell us how much progress Cal has or hasn’t made are yet to come.
Two games, two losses that were close enough that you walk away without your optimism crushed, but decisive enough that you can’t really pretend that Cal had a good chance to win either.
Cal now heads on the road for the Washington schools, and it’s really important that Cal at least get a split. If the Bears don’t, they’re in all likelihood staring at a seven game losing streak, because it’s Arizona, at UCLA, at USC right afterwards to close out January.
Washington is busy competing with Oregon State for worst team in the conference, but Cal isn’t nearly good enough to take any road game for granted, and the Cougars have been plenty feisty this year. It’s time to get back to some games that will tell us way more about where this team ends up finishing.