Cal pulls away from overmatched Idaho St. in 2nd half
When Cal scheduled Idaho St., I’d guess the idea was to play an unremarkably bad team. The Bengals were a roughly average Big Sky team last year and returned most everybody involved in 2020.
As it turned out, Cal ended up facing a remarkably bad team, as Idaho State has now started the season 0-8 against D1 competition including blowout losses to Seattle and UMKC. Their offense was never great shakes, but a solid defense in 2020 has collapsed into a unit that can’t bother shots, doesn’t secure the glass, and doesn’t disrupt at all. In short, they bad.
So it was frankly quite concerning when Cal found themselves tied with ISU, 22-22, only a couple of minutes away from halftime. The Bears didn’t come out with a ton of energy, and a lot of their offensive basketball had been passive. Settling for jumpers on the road against Utah is one thing; doing the same at home against maybe the weakest team on the schedule is another.
Luckily, the Bears shook off the doldrums, upped their intensity, stopped settling for mediocre shots, and never looked back. Cal outscored ISU 50-24 the rest of the way.
It was really the offense that was holding Cal back - ISU scored an identical 23 points in each half and never looked like they had the ability to put up points on Cal’s defense.
So what changed on offense? Nothing drastic, really. Cal just got to the bucket against a team that Cal should be expected to get to the bucket against. The result was layups, dunks, drawn fouls, free throws, and offensive boards.
Plus a couple of made 3s after some cold first half shooting. That certainly helps too.
Mark Fox played a deeper rotation, in part because ISU wasn’t likely to pose a threat and in part because Cal got back Marsalis Roberson from his early season injury. Every healthy scholarship player got minutes in both halves except for Dimitrios Klonaras.
Roberson, understandably, didn’t stand out, registering one defensive rebound and a free throw miss in five minutes. The broadcasters indicated that he just barely got back to practice and likely will need to catch up on conditioning and game readiness.
Cal’s other freshmen, Obinna Anyanwu and Sam Alajiki, did stand out. Both were more aggressive with the ball and got to the basket multiple times.
Lars Thieman has quietly looked pretty solid in his role as back-up to Andre Kelly. It’s early days in the season and the competition has been up-and-down, but he’s more than halved his turnover rate and isn’t fouling nearly as much as his first two seasons. Plus he’s moving better in the open court:
After averaging about two assists/game, Jordan Shepherd registered seven, mostly to Andre Kelly in the pick and roll. Now, ISU’s pick and roll defense was pretty disastrous, so I’m not getting carried away. But a Shepherd/Kelly pick and roll is a pretty sensible way to try to earn some offense, so I’m all for seeing it against better teams.
And so the Bears took care of business. Next up on the homestand is Santa Clara this Saturday, which will be much more challenging. Herb Sendek (last seen losing the Pac-10 title to Cal in 2010 and the Broncos already have two wins over power conference teams and haven’t lost a game by double digits yet this year. They shoot the ball really well and represent the best offense Cal has faced since the Florida/Seton Hall swing earlier this year.