Recap: Cal basketball falls to Utah's 2nd half rally
Will Cal have an answer to teams that can limit Andre Kelly?
Early in the game, it was clear that this was going to be tough going offensively.
Why? Because at some point early in the game, Cal got the ball down to Andre Kelly on the block, and Utah aggressively sent a double team, and Andre had no choice but to recycle the ball back outside the paint for a reset.
Utah kept the tactic up for essentially the entire game, and Andre finished with just two field goals on six shots. Without their go-to scorer, Cal couldn’t keep up and lost, 66-58.
I’m not going to say that Utah has laid a blueprint down on how to defend Cal - plenty of teams have trouble successfully executing a double team, and Andre is a good passer for a big man. But in my experience, it’s much easier for a defense to take away a go-to post scorer than a go-to perimeter scorer, and so Cal must find other ways to create offense against teams that aren’t going to let Andre Kelly go off.
And here’s where the challenge gets tougher: nobody else on the roster can reliably get shots at the rim.
I’ll share with you two fascinating numbers. First: Cal’s Torvik shooting splits show that the Bears currently show that out of 358 D1 teams, only five attempt more ‘long 2s’ than Cal.
(Those teams are Cal St. Bakersfield, UT Arlington, Alabama A&M, Cal St. Northridge, and Florida A&M, and they all rank 251st or worst in Kenpom’s adjusted offensive effiency)
But secondly, Cal is shooting a collective 43.5% on those long 2s, good for 38th in the country! Against Utah, the Bears shot a remarkably excellent 13-27 on those 2 point jump shots, and they kept the Bears close in a game when they weren’t hitting their 3s and couldn’t just keep feeding the ball to Andre Kelly.
This fascinating shooting split can be interpreted optimistically or pessimistically. On the optimistic side, Cal is making do by hitting the shots they can actually create for themselves, analytics be damned. This isn’t a team with the athleticism or scheme to get a ton of shots at the basket, so may as well be good at sinking the shots you have.
Pessimistically, Cal is a team struggling on offense despite the fact that they might be shooting over their head on 2 point jump shots, and the offense could really struggle if/when those shots stop falling.
I probably spend more time on the offense because it’s the fulcrum that will decide Cal’s fate this year. That’s because the defense has largely been steady and solid.
The Bears are doing a pretty excellent job of holding teams to one tough shot, which is exactly what a Mark Fox defense strives to do. Cal held Utah well below their season average offensive rebounding percentage, and only top 25 USC has held Utah to a lower 2 point shooting percentage.
The only thing holding the Cal defense back is fouling. Cal’s opponents are getting to the line too often, and though it wasn’t a huge problem on Sunday, Utah’s 12-15 performance from the line was a factor.
Kuany Kuany looked to badly twist his ankle in the 1st half and didn’t return
Jalen Celestine and Dimitrios Klonaras got the bulk of the playing time that would have gone to Kuany, and it was nice to see Klonaras pop up with a bucket and a block in his 6 minutes of action.
Ultimately, the difference in the game was just a few narrow advantages; Utah’s one extra offensive board and three fewer turnovers, and Utah’s slightly better three point and free throw shooting.
Honestly I’d like to see more than 8 minutes for Sam Alajiki.
Wasn’t thrilled by a couple of ticky-tack fouls called on Joel Brown that forced him to sub out in the 2nd half and may have limited his ability to pressure on defense down the stretch.
Can’t complain about Andre Kelly’s flagrant foul that functionally ended the game, however. He got his money’s worth on that one.
Cal’s non-conference schedule continues with four more home games covering the rest of December. Cal should, in theory, beat Idaho St., Dartmouth, and Pacific without drama, but Santa Clara already crushed Stanford and has generally been playing good ball, so a 4-0 sweep ahead of a trip to Stanford should not be taken for granted.