By coincidence, the first half of the Pac-12 season came to a nice, clean full circle, allowing coach Gottlieb to reflect on their growth these past few weeks.
“Our game at UCLA was to go inside and yet, we weren’t finishing our shots and unable to go to the free throw line,” Gottlieb said. “Our growth is that we have found other ways to score.”
With four talented players down at the post, Cal’s gameplan for the first half of the season has been predictable yet unstoppable: get the ball inside the paint. Finishing the nonconference season with a 9-3 record and on the cusp of entering the top 25 rankings, the Bears’ dominance on the glass became the embodiment of Gottlieb’s interpretation of Cal basketball.
But during their Los Angeles trip, the Bears’ over-reliance on a single philosophy reared its ugly head. Cal shot just below 30 percent in the two losses against the Bruins and USC, as it failed to make shots past the two defenses that crowded inside the paint.
With their basketball blueprint uncovered in an embarrassing fashion, Gottlieb went back to the tape after the weekend.
“I came into the film session the week after and said, ‘I have 68 clips here, and none of them are good,’”, Gottlieb said. “We took a butt-whooping down there, but I said we were going to get better.”
The Bears have since incorporated the guards’ shooting more into their offensive gameplan. From their initial role as pass feeders to the post players, starting guards Layshia Clarendon and Brittany Boyd have been aggressive with their shot selections. Three-point shooter Lindsay Sherbert now starts ahead of Afure Jemerigbe, giving the Bears’ starting rotation a new, perimeter shooting layer.
With their increased roles, the guards have been pivotal in Cal’s six-game winning streak.
Boyd has been electric and game-changing throughout the period, whose contributions in the second half of both the Colorado and Washington games sealed the victories. Clarendon has been playing her best Kobe Bryant impressions, hitting huge shots in crunch time of the Utah and Washington State tilts to deliver the W’s. Even Mikayla Lyles, who normally saw limited action, nailed four 3-pointers against Oregon to launch Cal’s 90-67 rout.
With a more well-rounded arsenal of offensive plan, the Bears have been more versatile in mixing their strategies against what their opponents throw off.
“The constant message I have given is that, we need to take control of the game,” Gottlieb said. “If we can dictate instead of react, we are always in good shape.”
Cal showed their chameleon-like ability to adapt and control the tempo with different strategies. After pounding the ball inside the post for most of the first half, the Bears had to rely on guards like Clarendon to counter against the fast-paced Cougars squad.
Now second in the Pac-12, the Bears next week head down to Palo Alto for the marquee matchup against No. 4 Stanford. If Cal can continue versatile colors it has displayed the past few weeks, don’t count out the Bears to make some noise against the indomitable Cardinal.