Cal opened its season earlier this week with a comprehensive defeat at the hands of UC Davis. Kansas State took advantage of the Aggie blueprint, defeating the demoralized Bears 63-54, to make it two losses on the bounce for Cal.
More concerning than its record is the manner in which Cal ceded both games. The Bears’ performances this season have displayed multiple cold shooting stretches with seemingly no end and only the most fleeting moments of offensive inspiration. Cal’s shockingly poor offensive performance against Kansas State saw them generate less points than University of Texas Rio Grande Valley against the same Wildcat defense.
Kansas State imposed itself in the paint from the opening tip. The Wildcats found great joy down low on both sides of the ball –– offensively, they punished the Bears’ interior to score 32 points in the paint and collect 12 offensive boards.
Defensively, Kansas State enforced a commanding control of its own basket. The Wildcats clogged Cal’s lanes to the cup, frustrating junior guard and slasher Devin Askew, and the Bears’ big men were nullified down low for all forty minutes. Lars Thiemann scored 17 points against UC Davis, but the more physical and stingy Kansas State defense held him to only four points.
Hot and cold
In its loss against UC Davis, Cal’s nearly eight-minute long dry spell enabled the Aggies to run away with the game late in the second half, and the Bears looked void of scoring ability when Askew lost his shooting rhythm. This looked to be a recurring theme in the first half against Kansas State –– Cal failed to score a single field goal for nearly ten minutes, and Askew’s scoring troubles stifled the entire Bears offense.
However, the second half saw Cal emerge a different team –– senior forward Kuany Kuany stepped up to lighten the scoring burden, igniting a blue and gold comeback with his three-point shooting. Askew continued to command the offense, but Cal’s roleplayers found their touch to steer the offense back on track.
Kuany’s timely hot stretch emboldened the entire Cal team. The Bears clawed out of their deficit thanks to his 10 second-half points. The Australian forward was pivotal in providing offensive relief for Askew and exercising his influence as a stretch forward who could also score on the drive.
Kansas State’s depth of scoring options was a decisive factor in its success. Four Wildcat players scored 8+ points to the Bears’ two, adding a crucial dimension to Kansas State’s game that Cal lacked: unpredictability. While Kansas State could shut down the Bears’ offense by neutralizing Askew and Kuany, the Bears were never able to fully thwart Kansas State in the same manner.
Cal will hit the road for the first time this season as it heads to La Jolla to take on UCSD. The Tritons, who reclassified to Division I basketball in 2020, embarrassed Cal in a 67-80 upset at Haas Pavilion last year. It is imperative that the Bears find more consistent offensive cohesiveness if they hope to exact revenge this time around.