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Cal Basketball: Colorado Dominates Cal in Second Half
After a promising first 20 minutes, Cal wilts in 70-62 defeat
With three minutes left in the first half, the Bears were riding high. Behind sound positional defense and a Colorado team that didn’t know where to go, the Bear led 33-22 and seemed well positioned to extend their unexpected winning streak. Sure, it was a little bit of a bummer that Colorado ended the half on a 6-2 run to cut the deficit to 7, but I don’t think anybody was complaining.
But that little run was the start of a big run. Cal would only score 10 points over 16 minutes of game time as part of a larger 36-10 run that turned this game completely on its head.
So what shifted? I don’t know if Cal’s offense fell off as much as the Bears just started missing shots - the Bears actually got a decent number of shots at the rim in the 2nd half that they simply missed. Taken in whole, it was a decent if unspectacular offensive effort for the post-Andre-Kelly Bears.
But defensively, Colorado started taking advantage of Cal’s primary defensive weakness: fouling.
In the first 16 minutes of the game, Colorado attempted all of two free throws. Monty was on the play-by-play call and was getting all over Colorado for letting Cal dictate terms on defense and not being more aggressive, and said he expected Tad Boyle to break his team out of their stupor eventually. And that’s exactly what happened - Colorado went 20-22 from the line the rest of the way.
It probably shouldn’t have taken nearly a half for Colorado to start drawing fouls. The Buffs have the 2nd highest free throw rate in Pac-12 play; Cal the 2nd highest free throw rate allowed*. Led by Jabari Walker, Colorado draws fouls. Cal’s defense struggles to defend without fouling.
Announcers have frequently praised Cal’s defense, and it’s not hard to understand why. For one, it’s the relative strength of the team. But beyond that, the Bears tend to pass the eye test on defense. They’re reasonably well organized, they contest most shots, they do a good job cleaning up the defensive glass.
But the fouls add up. I’m not sure if I can particularly explain why Cal is foul prone - there’s no one player who is a particular foul magnet. Maybe it just comes down to an athleticism gap, that Cal’s Pac-12 opponents have that extra little step that puts a defender off balance to draw a foul. But regardless of the reason, Cal’s defense has been hurt by giving up too many free passes. The Pac-12 schedule is littered with games that might have gone down to the wire, except Cal allowed 15, 20, 25 free throw attempts that were the difference between a coin flip game and a 10 point loss.
*To add insult to injury, Cal’s opponents are shooting 76% from the line - only 26 teams in the country have had a higher free throw percentage from their collective opponents.
It’s too bad about Cal’s defense, because in all honesty I liked a lot of what Cal did offensively . . . which makes me feel even sadder about Andre Kelly’s absence.
There was solid balance and distribution of shooting across the rotation, and nobody took more than 13 shots. There was a solid mix of 3 point shooting and interior shooting, and fewer long 2s than usual. This was all accomplished without turning the ball over very often. Lars was super active on the offensive glass keeping rebounds alive for his teammates.
And this was all against a solid defensive team with no glaring weaknesses. The Bears nearly put up a point/possession despite missing a number of solid looks inside. Without Andre, that’s decidedly solid.
More specifically, when we all thought about how Cal would have to win games under Mark Fox, this was supposed to be enough offensive production to give the Bears a shot. Instead, it was another game where the outcome wasn’t in doubt in the final 5 minutes.
Thanks to back-to-back upset wins from Arizona State and a soft closing schedule for the Devils, and thanks to Utah’s upset win against Stanford, Saturday’s game against the Utes is likely going to decide who finishes 10th and who finishes 11th in the Pac-12 regular season standings.
For those curious, the 10 and 11 seeds in the Pac-12 tournament will play the 7 and 6 seeds respectively, which is going to be one of a number of teams in the chase pack below Arizona/UCLA/USC.
Thus, Cal is in the odd position of having technically exceeded expectations (remember, the Bears were a near-unanimous 12th in the pre-season poll) without having done much to inspire excitement or optimism from the fan base.. We’re only a few weeks away from finding out whether or not Cal’s administration sees this as enough progress in year three.