Entering Sunday’s matchup, the Bears and the Dons are having eerily similar yet opposite seasons. Cal is on a three-game losing streak after a competitive loss to a ranked ASU team and back-to-back blowouts at the hands of UCLA and Pepperdine. USF, meanwhile, is on a three-game winning streak after defeating Nevada, Cal Poly and Long Beach State. All three victories came by 25 points or more. The Dons also had a competitive game against a ranked opponent, but unlike the Bears, who lost to No. 25 ASU, USF managed to take a 1-point victory over No. 4 Virginia.
When looking at this head-to-head matchup, it is difficult to point out the Dons’ biggest advantage over Cal, as they have so many to choose from. The Bears have been an atrocious outside shooting team so far, making just more than 29% of their threes. For a team that is so reliant on the 3-pointer for its offense, this is not a promising sign. Naturally, USF has had the opposite result, making 39% of its 3-pointers. Last season, both teams made slightly more than a third of their threes, so maybe these percentages will regress to the mean on their midday matchup.
The Dons’ offense and defense have been on fire so far, as they have scored at least 71 points in five of their last six games and allowed fewer than 63 points in four of their past five matchups. Cal has only managed to score more than 63 points once this season, and it was against Northwest University, an NAIA opponent that has yet to win a game this season and experienced two blowouts with a combined margin of 112 points.
In the past few games, the Bears’ X-factor has been whoever stepped up and helped junior guard Matt Bradley on the offensive end. Against Pepperdine, that player was senior forward Grant Anticevich, who finished the game with 21 points and eight rebounds. Clearly, having someone else step up to help Bradley did not change the outcome for the Bears, as they suffered their third consecutive loss. What this means is that the real X-factor is how well Cal can shoot.
The Bears made only five of their 24 attempts Wednesday for a chilling 20.8%. Had they shot 38% and made nine of those 24 attempts, they may have left Malibu with a third tally in the win column. For Cal to get out of this losing streak, it will have to make its outside shots. They don’t need to be lights out, but if the Bears can just be respectable and make about 34% of them, they have a real shot at not only winning this weekend but also having a successful 2021 season.
Tom Aizenberg covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].