Cal ruins Stanford's basketball season, set to ruin UCLA's season tonight

The Bears utterly shut down a Cardinal offense that ran out of ideas early to advance in the Pac-12 tournament

Photo Credit: Cal MBB Twitter

As you may or may not know, I tend to be a statistically inclined basketball fan. I’m a believer in the various quants and smarties that are revolutionizing/ruining the game, depending on your point of view.

But, obviously, basketball isn’t always just about the numbers, the Xs and Os, and efficiency. Sometimes one team shows up, and the other team doesn’t.

After a bad weekend in Oregon, Mark Fox got his team to show up. The Bears came out of the gates playing about as good on defense as they are capable of playing, and more or less maintained that effort for 40 minutes of basketball.

After a bad weekend in Oregon, Jarod Hasse failed to get his team to show up. The Cardinal came out of the gate with no real plan for how to create offense and minimal energy or effort on top of that, and played that way for 40 minutes.

As a result, Cal will be playing again tomorrow, while Stanford will prepare to play NIT games in front of 10 fewer fans than would normally show up for a Stanford NIT game at Maples Pavilion.

If not for a late flurry against a Cal defense that was mostly just trying not to foul with a double digit lead, Stanford likely wouldn’t have crested 50 points. Even WITH those last few meaningless buckets Stanford put up a ghastly 0.75 points/possession, which (if my quickie research is correct) is:

  • Stanford’s worst offensive performance of the year

  • Tied for Cal’s best defensive performance of the year (with Prairie View A&M)

  • The 2nd worst offensive efficiency for a Pac-12 team against another Pac-12 team. More on the worst showing below.

Stanford’s shots were sometimes comically bad. Many missed because Cal did a great job contesting them. Most anything within 5 feet of the basket was heavily defended. But others were wide open bricks, runners that clanged hard off the glass, or biffed layups. The announcers started to blame Stanford’s awful showing on flight delays that caused the Cardinal to miss shoot-around, and their shooting was so uncharacteristically bad that I almost buy that excuse.

Cal’s offense was hardly great shakes, and the Bears struggled to pull away despite Stanford’s offensive ineptitude, but when your opponent is shooting 29% on their 2 point shots it’s only a matter of time. Matt Bradley poured in his usual 18 points, Kareem South is still slumping from deep but got hot in the mid-range game (just to make me look dumb?!).

Meanwhile, Paris Austin picked his spots to make Stanford’s guards look silly to get to the bucket and convert inside or get to the line. He ended up scoring 18 points on just 7 official shot attempts. And while watching his performance, I kept coming back to a tweet I sent out a few weeks ago:

Paris Austin has his limitations. He was never able to develop a 3 point shot, which limits him as a hypothetical shooting guard. He struggles as a distributor (roughly as many assists as turnovers) which limits him as a point guard. And because was on the Cal roster over the prior two years, he developed all kinds of bad habits as a defender.

But Paris Austin does have his skills. He has an excellent handle and the quickness to get around defenders, a skill that Cal’s roster is largely lacking. Meanwhile, with competent defensive coaching, he has transformed himself into a plus on-ball defender. And for whatever his limits are as a jump shooter, he’s money from the free throw line, which pairs really well with his ability to get to the bucket.

Austin really slumped in the first half of the season. In Cal’s ugly, 2-8 stretch, he only scored more than 6 points once. But in Cal’s 8 wins over Pac-12 teams he’s averaged 14.5 usually-efficient points with plus defense, played the 2nd scorer to lead man Matt Bradley. If you’re looking for a reason that Cal managed to unexpectedly win so many Pac-12 games, look in the direction of Paris Austin. I suspect we will miss him next year.

That note up there that Stanford just put up the second worst offensive performance in Pac-12 play? The worst came from our Bears, when they scored 40 against UCLA, Cal’s opponent tonight (6:00, Pac-12 Network).

I don’t think that game means a ton by itself. We know Cal’s offense can struggle in any particular game, but UCLA’s defense has been below average all season long, and their late season run at the Pac-12 title was caused more by strong, consistent offensive production than by shut down defense. This is a dangerous statement to make, but I’d expect Cal to be scoring in the 60s.

So, can Cal pull another upset and improbably make it to the semifinals to face the winner of Arizona State/Washington State? Sure! UCLA is the weakest team that earned a first round bye, and Kenpom gives Cal a 31% chance at the upset.

As I noted earlier this week, I think this game comes down to whether or not Cal can keep UCLA off the boards and off the line. Cal did a reasonable job of that earlier this year, and if they do it again then there’s no reason why they can’t steal another.

One season-ruining win down, one season ruining win to go.