Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Wow, did that suck! Want to know an almost sure-fire way to lose to California? Score two points over a roughly seven and a half minute span in the heart of the first half while allowing the Bears to score 19. From the 12:57 mark, when the Bruins were only down 16-11, to the 5:38 mark, the Bruins scored one two-point basket. No threes, no free throws; just a two-point basket. Over the course of that same time span, California scored the aforementioned 19 points to take a 35-13 lead.
During the Cal run, the Bruins were a disgusting 1-of-12 from the field. They had more turnovers (2) and fouls (3) than baskets. Ten of those shots they took were jumpers (of course), of which they made zero (0-10). Shabazz missed four jumpers alone. Norman Powell missed three shots; two of them jumpers. The Wears missed two jumpers…and so on.
Cal only shot 14 shots over that same period. The difference is, the Bears made 10 of their fourteen shots and 2-of-3 free throws. What a difference good decision making and taking shots in the flow of an offense makes. At one point in the first half, Cal led by 28 points (47-19).
In fairness to the Bruins, and not by way of excuse making, the Bears came out highly energized. Their defensive activity was off the charts. They seemed to be flying everywhere on defense and offense. Their fans were engaged and rocking. And to add to UCLA’s woes, I would argue the refs were pretty inconsistent early on, so much so that Muhammad got a frustration foul two and a half minutes into the game. His frustration was valid. He just had a turnover that was the result of a Cal player running up to him and plainly hitting him on the arm as he dribbled, knocking the ball loose. It was obvious and should have been called a foul, but it wasn’t.
Cal was hyper aggressive and physical and the refs let it go. Meanwhile, the Bruins racked up seven fouls in the first frame, at least half pretty tame in comparison to what they were being subjected to by Cal. I can see a young team being frustrated and flustered and getting blasted. Further, and to their credit, the Bruins kept playing. They won the second half by 12 points (41-29). Some might suggest that the Bears took their foot off the gas, but the Bruins started the second half on a 14-4 run that chopped the lead to 15 (51-36) and rattled Montgomery enough to make him call a time out to get his team back on the beam. The Bears also played their starters more minutes than the Bruins. Cal knew the Bruins had the firepower to get over the hump if they let off at all. Allen Crabbe was still in with 22 seconds left.
To be honest, I expected the Bruins to lose and was afraid it would be a blow out. This is not a great team by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a pretty good, streaky, young team whose fortunes hinge on if they can get hot from the field. They sure as Hell can’t play lock down defense. The only way this team makes a good run to finish the season, or win the Pac-12 Tourney, or show well in March Madness, is if the light bulb finally comes on and they commit to better shot selection and defense. But I wouldn’t bet on it.
If there was any good news tonight it was in Boulder, Colorado. The CU Buffs got revenge on Arizona for the game the ‘Cats stole earlier in the season, which means the Bruins are still tied for second in the Pac-12. Colorado beat Arizona by 13, the same margin Cal beat the Bruins by tonight. But Arizona lost more respectably, if that’s possible.
Thursday’s loss makes a victory at Palo Alto vs. Stanford on Saturday nothing less than critical if the Bruins want to maintain a slugger’s chance to win the regular season title. Oregon isn’t going to lose to Wazzu and Arizona won’t likely lose to Utah this weekend. The Bruins must win to keep up, or more to the point, avoid falling back into the “also-rans.” It sez here, a loss Saturday would move the Bruins onto the NCAA Tourney bubble.