All good things must come to an end, but the end came rather too quickly for Cal, don’t you think? Whether the “good” in the maxim refers to the Bears’ impressive blowout exhibition game victory, Grant Anticevich’s breakout performance in said exhibition game or Cal’s steady first-half lead in its first official game against UCSD, it all ended way too fast for anyone’s liking.
As the Bears gear up to travel to Las Vegas, Nevada, to face UNLV, the last thing anyone would want to see is a repeat of last game’s performance. Considering Cal’s performance against the Tritons at home Tuesday, its first priority should be free throws.
They say nothing in life is free, but there is a strong counterargument to this aphorism — free throws are the leading evidence. Free throws are essentially free points, hence the name. In the first half against UCSD, Cal’s misses at the line were easily concealed by its efficient shooting, but the basket is not a dependable ally, and shots will not always fall. But the ones at the line must. The rim’s betrayal toward the Bears in the second half was so devastating as Cal failed to take advantage of the one free lunch offered.
Anticevich seemed to have used up all his luck beyond the arc in the exhibition game. He was unable to sink a single three against UCSD and recorded a dismal field goal percentage of 20. If Anticevich doesn’t want to be nicknamed a one-hit-wonder, he needs to step up and find consistency in his shooting. His team definitely needs it. However, for the time being, Cal fans should give Anticevich the benefit of the doubt. It was only one game, after all.
The Bears now go on the road to face the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels in Vegas. On paper, UNLV does not pose a great threat to the Bears; statistically, although the Rebels boast significantly better records in the 2020-21 season, the two teams record similar percentages in the field.
“We have to play better on the defensive end to give ourselves any chance to win,” said head coach Mark Fox when asked how he expects his team to respond against UNLV. “Grant didn’t shoot the ball well today, but we can’t just be jumpshot-reliant. We gotta do the fundamental things like making free throws.”
In terms of defense, the Bears undoubtedly need to step up their game when guarding the ball. Though the zone defense against UCSD looked like it was working for a while, it didn’t remedy the fact that the Bears were being outplayed and outworked by their opponents.
UNLV’s leading rebounder Cheikh Mbacke Diong averaged 7.4 boards per game last season, one more than Andre Kelly’s 6.4. Kelly demonstrated extreme athleticism and strength under the board on the offensive board last game; it seems we can expect a box out contest between these two bigs as they crash the Vegas boards Saturday night.
Despite the UCSD loss, graduate transfer Jordan Shepherd did not disappoint in his official Cal debut, tying his career-high of 27 points while shooting 57% from behind the arc.
“We didn’t get the job done,” Shepherd said in a press conference after his team’s loss. “We didn’t play well defensively, took a lot of quick shots. We didn’t play to our identity tonight at all.”
Shepherd’s words pose an interesting question: What exactly is the Bears’ identity? Is it an embodiment of modern basketball, one that’s heavily reliant on the three-point line, reminiscent of the once oh-so-glorious Warriors dynasty? Or is it one characterized by efficiency via ball movement that’s complex and difficult yet deadly and consistent? However, at the end of the day, it does not matter what the Bears’ identity is — as long as it’s a winning one.
Hopefully, as the Bears face the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels on Saturday, they will reveal a glimpse of that true identity Shepherd was talking about.