Sometimes good is not good enough.
“It was going to take a terrific effort from our club to win,” said head coach Mark Fox following Cal men’s basketball’s 60-52 loss against UCLA on Jan. 8th. “We did a lot of things to give us a chance throughout the game.”
The narrow margin of defeat to a top-ten-ranked team in the nation could be seen as a win for the Bears — but the moral victory does not preclude them from falling to the Bruins again in their upcoming rematch.
If Cal wants to give itself a puncher’s chance to upset now-No.7 UCLA, it must replicate its Jan. 8th effort and more. While Cal shot a respectable 40.4% clip from the field overall that night, it would be bold for the Bears to rely solely on their shooting against such a versatile opponent.
Similarly to how it out-rebounded UCLA 37-27 at Haas Pavilion, Cal must lean on its rebounding again if it wants to escape Westwood with a win. Not only did the Bears crash the glass more than the Bruins, but they managed to do it on the offensive side in convincing fashion. Where reality became most apparent was in second-chance points, of which Cal only bested UCLA 10-7.
The Bears are much less likely to outscore their Pac-12 foe in a halfcourt setting or transitions, so capitalizing off of quick second chance points — where the defense is not as set — is critical to keeping its upcoming game in reach. Counting on Cal to display rebounding dominance once again may be a tall order, but rebounding is much less susceptible to error than shooting is, as effort is often the determining factor more times than not.
Following their wrangle in Westwood, the blue and gold will make a short trip to Galen Center where they will take on No. 15 USC on Jan. 29th. In its previous tussle with the Trojans, Cal fell in a 77-63 loss. While the box score does not suggest it, the game was still competitive.
The home team was down as few as 3 points early in the second half, but allowed the lead balloon to 15 by the 3:20 mark. With less than two minutes to go, though, Cal cut down the once-15-point margin to as few as 8.
“Our defense was exposed tonight versus a really good team,” Fox said following the USC loss. “We let the ball get into some very dangerous positions.”
This was certainly an understatement, as USC outscored Cal 50-14 in the paint. Moreover, the Trojans shot an overall 53.4% clip from the field.
Though it’s easier said than done, forcing the opposition to beat them with outside shots should be a defensive point of emphasis for the Bears. In the first half, USC shot just 1-6 from three. On the season, the Trojans are sinking 35.8% of their treys, compared to its 47.3% shooting from the field overall.
NBA prospects like USC’s top scorer Isaiah Mobley will score regardless of the scheme put in front of them, so Cal must make “the others” beat it from the perimeter if it wants to avenge its Jan. 6th loss.
In addition to improving their defense, the Bears must take great care of the ball. In its last match against USC, they tallied only eight turnovers — three less than their season average — which prevented the Trojans from completely opening the floodgates.
Needless to say, the blue and gold faithful should expect the worst but hope for the best because good is not good enough.
Justin Kim covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].