After a solid 6-4 start to the season, the Bears have been winless for nearly a month now — and with tough conference opponents lying ahead, who knows where this season is going. The Bears are now 6-8, the only team in the Pac-12 with a losing record.
Following a dropped conference opener to Stanford Thursday, Cal will be hosting Washington State with the goal of breaking its four-game losing streak. The Cougars are 10-5 after an overtime win against UCLA, but the Bears have undoubtedly had a tougher schedule thus far.
Cal has a lot of work to do, plain and simple. The team has struggled to score, averaging just more than 65 points per game, with guard Matt Bradley accounting for roughly 25% of those points. If the team wants to fix the scoring problem against Washington State, it’s easy enough to say they need someone else to step up, but the Bears’ scoring struggles may actually be directly related to the team’s ability to share the ball, or lack thereof.
Cal’s assist leader at this point in the season is starting point guard Paris Austin, who only averages 1.9 assists per game. What makes it even worse is that Austin is averaging 2.5 turnovers per game, resulting in a .76 assist to turnover ratio, a number that is inexcusable for the team’s floor general.
If Cal can do a better job of moving without the ball, running off-ball screens and cutting and dishing out to open jump shots, the team can raise its horrid assist numbers and potentially fix its scoring problem.
Earlier in the season, the Bears struggled heavily with rebounding, and despite the recent losing streak, Cal has outrebounded its opponent on the offensive glass in three straight contests. The Pac-12 opener against Stanford featured a season best for the Bears in the rebounding category, as Cal pulled in 41 boards. Maybe this upward trend and a better job of sharing the ball will result in a victory for the blue and gold, but the Cougars aren’t to be taken lightly.
The Bears will be tasked with stopping forward CJ Elleby, who is averaging 19 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 0.5 blocks per game, all of which are team highs. Slowing down Elleby will be no easy task, although the sophomore has been held to just 24 total points in Washington State’s two conference games this year.
The Cougars have been firing away from deep, albeit inaccurately, leading the Pac-12 with 371 three-point attempts but only shooting 28.6% from behind the line. Washington State is also averaging almost seven points per game more than Cal, while allowing six fewer points per contest. Facing statistically a better defense and offense, the Bears may have to pull off their strongest performance of the year so far to come out victorious.
Cal has been solid at home this year, with a 6-2 record and four players averaging double digit scoring numbers in Haas Pavilion. The Bears will hope to improve this number to 7-2, breaking their four-game losing streak and avoiding an early 0-2 hole in conference play.
Tipoff will take place Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. and can be streamed on Pac-12 Networks.