In theory, this seemed like the absolute perfect scenario to get a win over Stanford.
The Cardinal are a pretty talented team this year, and they are right on the bubble for an NCAA tournament spot. But the Bears were playing at home, on five days rest. Stanford, meanwhile, played USC in a rescheduled game just two days prior. Most importantly, Stanford was without three rotation players thanks to injury and quarantine protocols. Thanks to a depleted roster Stanford basically played a 7 man rotation that included a couple of freshmen who haven’t had much successful court time this year. Everything was coming up blue and gold.
Final score: Stanford 70, Cal 55.
As it turns out, things weren’t 100% going Cal’s way pre-game. Joel Brown and Andre Kelly both had false-positive test results earlier this week that kept them out of practice and thus they missed various aspects of scouting and game prep. Still, they were able to play and Stanford was more than a little short handed, so this is a result that’s harder to take than your average rivalry defeat.
I wish I had something new to say, but the reasons behind this defeat are the same as always - turnovers and defense.
Stanford built themselves a big first half lead in part because Cal was completely incapable of defending inside. Stanford shot an absurd 15-23 (65%) on 2 point shots, as Pac-12 POY candidate Oscar Da Silva had his run of the paint.
Meanwhile, Cal’s chances of keeping up offensively were constantly hamstrung by turnovers. Cal shot the ball reasonably well in the first half, but they turned the ball over 16 times in 67 possessions. When nearly a quarter of your possessions end before you can get a shot up, it’s almost impossible to play efficient offensive basketball. And when Cal’s shooting dried up in the 2nd half and the turnovers kept coming, Cal’s offense fell off a cliff.
After the game Mark Fox indicated that he was going to have to rethink how Cal is playing, to play an uglier style of basketball like the Bears played last year. I’m honestly not sure what kind of changes Fox is thinking of implementing. This year’s team is playing at precisely the same slow pace that they played last year, so he can’t reasonably slow the team down more to try to shorten games.
If his goal is to limit turnovers, I’m honestly not sure how. Cal’s turnover problem is pretty well spread out across the entire roster, as Andre Kelly is pretty much the only rotation member who doesn’t turn the ball over with concerning frequency.
To the extent that there were any bright spots, Matt Bradley and Andre Kelly both had very Bradley-and-Kelly-esque games. Bradley hit a bunch of 3s and got to the line a bit. Kelly didn’t have a ton of shots but hit the ones he got at a very high percentage. They’ve both put together consistently good performances in Pac-12 play.
The problem is that they’re so rarely getting any support. The rest of the roster shot 7-31 from the field and only got to the free throw line for three attempts, which has been a pretty consistent theme of late. Outside of Bradley and Kelly, Grant Anticevich is maybe the only other player on the roster who can consistently create or find his own shot, but Grant is now mired in a three game shooting slump as extreme as the three-game supernova that preceded it.
The only solution to this problem is for the rest of the roster to hit shots. It’s either that or going back and forth between Kelly post isolations and Bradley perimeter isolations.
We get to do it all over again on Sunday, but this time from Palo Alto.
I wonder if Cal will change their defensive strategy at all. Unsurprisingly, Oscar da Silva had his run of things inside. I was surprised that Cal had Andre Kelly guard da Silva without the help of a double team for much of the game. This is dangerous both because da Silva can score on most anybody one-on-one, and because Cal needs Kelly on the floor and not in foul trouble. Sure enough, Kelly picked up 5 fouls in just 27 minutes of court time.*
Stanford is still likely to be without the same guys that were missing Thursday, so with a limited rotation I think it makes all the sense in the world to devise some kind of double team plan for da Silva touches. I’d much rather dare Stanford’s other players to beat us and tip our hat if they do than let Silva go off for another 24-points-in-17-shots kind of game.
So if the Super Bowl doesn’t end late and you’re not in a nachos-and-beer coma afterwards, tune in for round 2 to see if Cal looks radically different on offense and/or defense after a defeat that appears to be prompting more than a little bit of soul searching from the Cal coaching staff.
*Kelly also managed to put up a positive +/- in his time on the court, and while I’m extremely skeptical of single game +/- as a stat, I won’t argue that Cal needs their only interior scorer in the game for as much time as possible.