— Cal Men’s Basketball (@calmensbball) March 11, 2017
In its most important game of the season — a Pac-12 semifinal matchup against No.5 Oregon — Cal men’s basketball suffered a major blow when leading scorer Jabari Bird hit his head on the ground and was pulled from the remainder of the game in observance of the concussion protocol. The Bears’ offense can oftentimes become stagnant and unimaginative, but because forward Ivan Rabb consistently draws the attention of multiple defenders inside, Cal’s shooters usually have plenty of space. Bird, who shot 36.5 percent from beyond the arc this season, is Cal’s second-best threat from deep.
Without Bird, the Bears relied on the outside shooting of guards Charlie Moore and Grant Mullins. Mullins — Cal’s most reliable sharpshooter this season with 69 made threes on 42.6 percent shooting — seemed to benefit from the increase in offensive responsibility and poured in a season-high 23 points, including 5/5 from three-point range.
On one particular offensive sequence, with under 6:30 left in the first half, the Ducks somehow left Mullins wide open in the left corner with ample space. Let’s look at the tape and see how the Bears created that look.
The play starts with Moore with the ball at the top of the three-point line. Center Kingsley Okoroh approaches Moore’s defender, 6-foot-4 Tyler Dorsey, to set a weakside screen. Once Okoroh arrives up top, Moore hesitates for a second before quickly accelerating toward his strong side. Instead of using Okoroh’s screen, Moore uses the threat of the screen to gain the first step on his defender and uses his speed to beat the larger Dorsey after gaining the initial advantage. Though Moore may be undersized at 5 foot 11 inches, he’s almost always one of the quickest players on the floor, and he is an expert at leveraging his physical gifts.
Meanwhile, Mullins trades places with guard Stephen Domingo — a markedly worse shooter — and rotates to the left corner. Mullins’ defender, 6-foot-2 freshman Payton Pritchard, inches away from Mullins as he sees Moore lose Dorsey on his way into the lane.
As soon as Moore takes off, he blows past Dorsey and forces him to contest the play from behind him. Rabb, who is in excellent post position before Moore, decides to take his defender off the dribble, and he abandons the left block to free up Moore’s path. Once Rabb’s defender, Pac-12 leading shot-blocker Chris Boucher, lends his help defense to stop Moore, Rabb takes advantage of the freedom. Unmarked, he puts himself in position to grab an offensive rebound of a potential Moore miss or collect the inside pass if Moore runs out of options and needs to dump the ball.
Oregon makes its most crucial defensive mistake here. Pritchard leaves Mullins completely unattended in an effort to provide help defense on Moore, when Boucher is already in position to contest Moore at the rim. At this point, Moore has three passing options: Domingo at the top of the three-point line, Mullins in the corner and Rabb on the inside.
Domingo’s 16.7 percent mark from three this season made him a nonoption on the perimeter. Rabb, though an adept finisher, struggled against Boucher’s elite shot-blocking abilities throughout the game. Plus, Boucher put himself in position to disrupt the potential dish to Rabb.
Showing off his natural feel for point guard, Moore made the optimal decision by passing to Mullins, who had ample time to corral the ball, set up his feet and let the shot fly before Dorsey could run out to him.
Using the threat of a slasher to collapse the defense and free open the perimeter shooters sounds simple. But, the reason the Bears weren’t able to run sets like this very often is because they lacked shooting depth. Cal failed to equip its roster with the necessary shooting prowess to complement Rabb’s interior presence and wound up finishing second to last in the conference in three-point percentage. The Bears’ inability to score consistently ultimately kept them from winning several very winnable games and cost them a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Kapil Kashyap covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]