Cal Women's Basketball Falls to Colorado, Utah
The young Bears have an up-and-down homestead end in two defeats
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Cal WBB season has been defined by the unexpected emergence of Jayda Curry, and the surprising speed at which Cal has become reliant on her offensive production.
This past weekend, Cal didn’t get the type of production they have quickly come to expect from the likely Pac-12 freshman of the year. And while that’s in some ways connected to both Cal losses, the different way that both games developed perhaps will provide some encouragement to Cal fans.
Against Colorado, Jayda Curry was just off. Some of that may well have been connected to a painful fall in the first half that saw Curry miss a portion of the game as she went through concussion protocol after her head hit the court. She also appeared to hurt her hand later in the game. I’m not sure how much her ailments impacted her, but the result was a 3-14 shooting night. Curry made up for it a bit from the line, but the Bears collectively struggled with Colorado’s aggressive, physical defense and struggled to score for most of the game.
The final result? A poor shooting night from everybody on the roster and a slew of turnovers.
Against Utah, Curry started the game with two quick fouls that saw her sit for most of the first half. Thanks to overtime, Curry ended up playing 33 minutes anyway, but her long period on the bench forced other players on the roster to step up offensively. The Bears were much more balanced, and ended up putting up one of their best offensive games as a team in Pac-12 play.
It didn’t end up as a win, and it is relevant that Utah has probably the worst defense (but also maybe the best offense!) in the conference. But it’s encouraging to see Cal compete for and nearly pull off the win against a competent conference foe when Curry isn’t doing everything on offense.
Each game was also an interesting example of how styles make fights. Cal’s game against Colorado was at times, frankly, unpleasant to watch. Not for anything Cal did, but because Colorado defines themselves with a defensive style that can charitably be described as aggressive, and uncharitably described as “we’re going to foul you on every possession and dare the refs to call it.”
I don’t blame Colorado for going with that style - it serves them well and they have one of the best defenses in the conference. But it’s terrible to watch and felt like an injury waiting to happen. Cal was unable to ever really get used to the pressure, and the inevitable result was too many turnovers to ever have a solid chance of winning.
Cal and Utah are a dream match-up if you like points. Utah is 1st in the Pac-12 in points/possession, last in points allowed/possession, and 2nd in pace. The only team in the conference faster than Utah? Our Bears . . . who also are 2nd to last in points allowed/possession.
In short, it was two teams who push pace with better offenses than defenses. That it resulted in a high scoring thriller was not a surprise.
Maybe if Curry stays out of foul trouble, that’s enough of an extra boost to get Cal the win. But in a developmental season, I don’t mind seeing Cal play a solid chunk of minutes without their star scorer. If this team wants to maximize their talent, the rest of the roster is going to have to be comfortable shooting and scoring when Curry is either off the court or getting too much defensive attention.
I spent some time this weekend trying to figure out why Cal’s defense struggles. This question has perplexed me in part because when I watch the Bears play the defense frequently passes the eye test. Cal’s guards expend a ton of effort flying around trying to bother the opponent. Dalayah Daniels and Evelien Schipholt block a bunch of shots and alter just as many others. Why are the 11th in the Pac-12 in points allowed/possession?!
And that eye test stuff is represented in some of the numbers. Cal is holding opponents to 40% shooting on their 2 point shots, good for 35th in the nation. The Bears also force their fare share of turnovers. That 2 point defense hasn’t been quite as strong in Pac-12 play, but that’s in part a factor of the teams Cal has played in an unbalanced schedule. The point is that a strong 2 point defense and a decent number of forced turnovers usually leads to strong defensive results.
Cal gives all of that and more back because of two main factors:
Opponents are shooting 36% on their 3s, which is 345th out of 356 teams
Cal can’t lock down the defensive glass at all; teams are rebounding 35% of their own misses.
The first factor may be some mix of design and luck. A variety of the zones Cal runs definitely have holes that allow open 3 pointers, which is why they make me nervous. But some of this is probably just bad variance.
The 2nd issue is thornier. Evelien Schipholt might be the only plus defensive rebounder for her position on the roster, and Cal particularly struggles when she’s not on the court. What the Bears probably need both in the short and the long term is for the highly touted younger post players like Michelle Onyiah and Fatou Samb to mature into strong defensive rebounders. This probably isn’t an issue that can be fixed this season, but something to hopefully address with an offseason of development.
Cal’s homestand will last one game longer, as the Bears will get at least ONE of their many postponed games in this week. Arizona State is coming to Haas on Wednesday before the Bears head to Oregon to take on the Ducks and Beavers.
ASU started off Pac-12 play roughly, with 7 cancellations of their own and a 1-3 record in actual games played, but they’ve caught fire since with wins over Arizona and Oregon. Those all came at home, so while Cal will be underdogs this is another game that’s winnable in the right circumstances.
With the likely exception of the game in Eugene, Cal could win any of the rest of their Pac-12 schedule. I have no idea what kind of seed in the Pac-12 tournament that might result in with so many postponed games in limbo, but the main goal for the rest of this season is for the Bears to prove to themselves and the rest of the conference that they are read to compete in that tier below the elite teams. Four games into the restart of the season and the Bears have played three competitive games that could have swung either way. Two or three more this week would be just dandy.