After eight straight losses, a team can feel one of two ways: desperate and starving to churn out a win in any way possible, or completely defeated, convinced that there will be no wins in sight. Which of these two outcomes is readily apparent can shed light on something arguably more important than a record — a team’s character.
The Cal men’s basketball team (7-15,1-8) is now at such a crossroads. The players must decide whether they will salvage some semblance of their season or give up on it entirely. The former will prove them to be a stalwart cohort with the potential to seriously improve in future seasons. The latter will show that they lack the conviction to become a team contending for wins.
The Bears will be tested this Thursday against Oregon (14-7, 4-4) — the outcome of which matters less than the quality of the process within it.
The Ducks are currently riding a slim two-game win streak, besting UCLA, 94-91, and then Oregon State, 66-57.
The win against the Bruins, who are currently fourth in the Pac-12, came off of a huge performance from sophomore guard Payton Pritchard, who put up 25 points and five threes.
Pritchard has had a few huge games for Oregon but has yet to solidify himself as the team’s consistent go-to offensive weapon — nonetheless, the Bears should be aware of his outside shooting ability and quick handles.
Joining Pritchard at the top of the Ducks’ stat sheet is redshirt senior guard Elijah Brown, who has been averaging 13.5 points per game and shoots an impressive 36.4 percent from beyond the arc. He’ll be looking to drive and either dish or draw fouls, so Cal’s zone defense should focus on keeping him out at the perimeter.
It’s undeniable that the Bears’ zone defense has improved since the onset of the season, but it still lacks a tenacity and durability (particularly in the second half) that will allow it to function at its most efficient.
Similarly, Cal’s offense has been performing at a suboptimal efficiency. In their last eight losses, the Bears have averaged just 62.8 points per game, mostly on the back of freshman forward Justice Sueing.
Sueing and fellow freshman Darius McNeill have been the lifeblood of Cal’s offensive effort, but they haven’t been able to generate enough on their own to pull off wins — and understandably so. It’s nearly impossible to win a game with only two players putting up double digits, and the rest of the Bears are going to have to pick up some of the slack if they want to begin to show signs of life.
While big men seniors Marcus Lee and Kingsley Okoroh have improved their post game in recent contests, they still lack the efficiency that will ensure domination down low. Simple finishing at the rim still appears to plague these two, and until they’ve got that down, Cal will continue to suffer in its post game.
What the Bears now need to show, more than simply the ability to win, is the ability to compete at a high-caliber level. Only time will tell if they can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and prove their potential.