Steady the ship: Bears look to plunder Pirates and Bulldogs

Photo of Cal Men's Basketball player shooting a basketball
Theo Wyss-Flamm/Senior Staff

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“The dam broke on us,” said head coach Mark Fox following a loss against Florida.

Cal men’s basketball played its first ranked opponent of the season Monday, sparring off against No. 23 Florida. While the 20-point loss might feel deflating, it is critical that the blue and gold do not hang their heads for too long, as they will soon face off against No. 21 Seton Hall.

Seton Hall looks to be Cal’s toughest matchup yet, as the Pirates stand 3-1 on the season with their most notable win coming against No. 4 Michigan.

The Bears should not feel discouraged though, as their second-half efforts against the Gators showed that they are capable of performing better than their record otherwise indicates. Cal only lost the second half by a one-point margin, holding an explosive Florida offense to just 34 points. If the Bears can sustain this effort for a whole 40 minutes against Seton Hall, they just might be able to steal themselves a game.

Numbers don’t lie, but they can be deceiving.

Despite Seton Hall only having two players averaging double-digit points on the season, its scoring depth can not be overlooked. They have four additional players averaging 9 points a game or above. Along with their scoring depth, the Pirates carry some lethal weapons from distance: Senior guard Bryce Aiken is shooting a scorching hot 46.7% from three on the season, while guards Jamir Harris and Myles Cale are canning their triples at 36.4% and 37.5% clips, respectively.

If the Bears want to prevent a rout, they must take care of the ball and be vigilant with their shot selection. Time and time again, Seton Hall has demonstrated that it is capable of shutting down the best of opponents. In their shocking upset win over Michigan, the Pirates held one of the best offensive teams in the nation to 20% from distance and a suboptimal 42% shooting night overall.

“These nationally ranked teams, they make you pay for every mistake,” Fox said.

Everyone on the blue and gold must look to box out, as Seton Hall averages a monstrous 42.3 rebounds per game. Second-chance points are one of the most efficient ways for a team to win, so the Bears have to mitigate the Pirates’ attempts to loot any defensive rebounds.

Following the Seton Hall game, the Bears will head back home from Florida where they will face off against Fresno State.

This game will likely be a breath of fresh air for the Bears, as it will be their first home game in nearly two weeks and is a much more winnable matchup.

Nevertheless, Cal does not have the luxury of taking any game or opponent lightly, so it must lock in on both ends. Defensively, the blue and gold should look to capitalize off of the Bulldogs’ frequent mistakes, as Fresno State coughs up the ball 13.3 times per game.

The Bears have a tall task to overcome in containing the Bulldogs’ 7’0” forward Orlando Robinson. Robinson is the Bulldogs’ leading scorer, averaging 19 points per game. Cal must force Robinson to take perimeter shots, as he is shooting only 16.7% from downtown. The forward has taken six 3s in the first four contests, which shows that, if forced, he is willing to settle.

Ideally, the Bears should not foul. But if it comes as a result of aggressive defense, it’s a gamble they should be willing to take, depending on the player. The Bulldogs shoot a measly 66% from the charity stripe, so the blue and gold would be wise to use this to their advantage should the situation call for it.

If the Bears want to avoid drowning in their season, they must keep the proverbial dam closed in these next two matchups.

Justin Kim covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].