In the midst of playing five games in 10 days, the Bears have had everything thrown against them. They’ve experienced every type of loss during the stretch, from down-to-the-wire defeats to full-on blowouts. Due to frequent trips to and from Haas Pavilion resulting from quick turnarounds, it’s clear that it is taking a lot more fight for them to get out of it in one piece.
“There is essentially no practice,” said Cal head coach Mark Fox. “It’s just walkthroughs and trying to recover and recharge … we’ve got to figure out who’s healthy and get their bodies to recover and their emotions recharged.”
Fox and company head into the coming week after an 81-57 loss against UCLA and a nail-biting 79-72 defeat to USC. Despite the losses, Cal’s offense showed signs of improvement between the games. After an underwhelming shooting performance in the second half against the Bruins where the team shot 41% from the field — and 29% from downtown overall — the Bears shot 50% from both the field and 3-point range. Cal’s bench also picked up, outscoring USC’s bench 27-13 after dropping 18 points in the game prior.
It wasn’t all roses for Cal’s offense after Saturday’s game, however. Forward Andre Kelly left the game against USC with an apparent leg injury after a fast-break dunk and his status is unknown. Despite the team’s offensive improvement, forward Grant Anticevich continued to struggle with his shot. The 6’9” forward saw only three of his 18 shots go in the basket and he didn’t make a shot in the team’s loss to UCLA.
Compounding problems was the inability for Cal to get to the free throw line. Compared to its 18 attempts at the foul line during the road trip, the two Los Angeles powerhouses combined for 46 attempts. Part of it was due to Kelly’s undersized nature compared to the rest of the big men in the Pac-12, prohibiting Cal from establishing much of a post presence.
“On the interior we’re just playing bigger people,” Fox said. “Andre will always be undersized. He’s gonna be smaller than everybody we play in conference play. So positioning of the post is so important.”
The blue and gold will have to focus on their defense, which has been struggling as of late. They gave up a combined 160 points and allowed the Bruins and Trojans to shoot at least 50% in the first half of both games. The Bears also struggled to limit production from multiple sources — five Bruins scored in double figures and the Trojan duo of Isaiah Mobley and Boogie Ellis combined for 45 points on 17 field goals.
Just as the interior presence on the offensive end for the Bears leaves much to be desired, the defense experienced a similar letdown against the Trojans, giving up 36 points in the paint.
Cal will have a chance to show some defensive prowess against Stanford on February 1. The Cardinal, along with the Bears, are among the bottom of the Pac-12 in scoring offense. While the Bears can potentially force some misses, they’ll have to finish the job by crashing the boards. Cal showed improvement by not getting outrebounded against USC, but Stanford is another team that ranks inside the conference’s top five in rebounds per game.
It must contend with two forwards on the opposite end of their college careers. Freshman Harrison Ingram and senior Jaiden Delaire are both averaging 11 points per game and Ingram leads the team in rebounds per game.
Kelly, if healthy, will be an important X-factor. Cal’s next attempt at breaking a now seven-game losing streak will by no means be easy, but with the added motivation of a rivalry, Cal will be hungry to get back in the win column.