Cal Women's Basketball: Oregon 52, Cal 47: Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty?
The Bears put together their best defensive effort of the season but can't find enough offense to earn a road upset
The title is a little more up for grabs this year than in prior seasons, but the Pac-12 is still probably the best conference in women’s basketball. ESPN has 8 of 12 Pac-12 teams in the hunt for a tournament spot. UCLA isn’t in the mix but has a NET ranking that suggests an upset win or two could put them on the bubble
Since coming back from their long COVID layoff, the Bears beat one of the Pac-12 teams NOT in the hunt for the tournament, followed by four straight losses. Three of those losses have been narrow defeats that could have swung the other way if you flip a key sequence or two, and none moreso than Cal’s loss to Oregon in Eugene.
The Bears missed six free throws from a bunch of usually reliable shooters in the 4th quarter, and five decent 3 point looks inside the final 1:30 of the game. It wouldn’t have taken much for some of those looks to fall and for this game to swing from a loss to a win.
So do you take Cal’s last six games and see a team that just can’t quite put it together to win games, or do you see a team that’s young and so close to making noise in the Pac-12?
I guess the answer is both. My hope for this season was simply that the Bears would be competitive in the Pac-12, that games would be fun, compelling contests. The first half of conference play was rarely like that, thanks in large part to COVID impacts. The second half of conference play has been much more fun, even if it hasn’t actually resulted in many wins.
The shift can be seen just by comparing two games against Oregon. Back in January, the Ducks destroyed the Bears. This time around, playing on the road, Cal gave Oregon everything they could handle.
The biggest difference between Game 1 and Game 2?
Oregon 3 point shooting, game 1: 14-26 (54%)
Oregon 3 point shooting, game 2: 0-16 (lol 0%)
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen something quite like that. Oregon is a good-not-great 3 point shooting team at 34% for the season. You will be unsurprised to learn that the most 3 pointers Oregon has hit in a single game and the fewest 3 pointers Oregon has hit in a single game have both come against the same team. Basketball is weird.
I'll leave it to you to decide how much of Oregon’s awful shooting against Cal the 2nd time around was from Cal’s defense, but it’s not like the Bears just relied on bricks from deep to slow Oregon down. The Bears also forced 18 turnovers against a team that usually takes pretty good care of the ball, and Oregon didn’t dominate inside either. Add it all up and it was Oregon’s worst offensive effort of the season . . . and by extension, Cal’s best defensive performance of the season.
Dalayah Daniels might be the key to Cal’s future.
Curry is the ball-dominant scorer, Macintosh the reliable point guard. Crocker and Green are the 3-and-D guards, and Lutje-Shipholt/Onyiah/Samb a reliable collection of interior defenders and rebounders.
But Daniels is the player with the recruiting pedigree to operate around those pieces, as an inside-out scorer and difference maker on both ends. Cal needs a 2nd lead scorer who offers a compliment to what Curry can do without sacrificing anything defensively. And you saw some of that against Oregon.
On one end she’s moving with and without the basketball, making sharp cuts, and finding ways to finish inside. On defense, she’s playing bigger than her size, blocking shots, getting in passing lanes, disrupting on so many possessions.
Her freshman season was messed up by COVID, having to play out of position, having to play on the ball a ton. For whatever reason, she got off to a slow start in this, her sophomore season. But over the last few games Daniels has been more assertive on both ends, and that gives me more hope for next season.
And so we’re left hoping Cal can put it all together.
We watched the Bears score like crazy against Stanford and Utah, but lose because the defense couldn’t get a stop. We watched the Bears defend really well against UCLA and Oregon, but lose because the offense stumbled. From game to game you can see the individual and team elements that, if put together, could make for a great final product.
But there’s no guarantee that the pieces fall into place, either this season or in the future. It’s up to Charmin Smith and the rest of the Bears to figure the puzzle out.