While the current Berkeley weather cannot be more of a juxtaposition to the radiant sunlit beaches within the Mamma Mia-verse, and the only bells that will be ringing will be the not-quite-as-pleasant-sounding buzzers of Haas Pavilion, come Monday night, it will show again, Cal basketball, just how much the fans have missed you.
Brokenhearted and blue since the day they’ve parted (and likely way before then, as well, considering Cal’s previous record), basketball fans should be thrilled to hear that Monday night will see the official opening of the 2022-23 season. A new and improved — though the latter has yet to be proven — team of Bears will host the UC Davis Aggies within the familiar confines of Haas Pavilion.
Although this game kicks off the season, the Bears had an opportunity to test the waters in an exhibition game against the Chico State Wildcats last Wednesday, snatching a 62-55 victory along the way. Fans who weren’t in attendance should let neither the end result nor an underestimation of the Troy Bolton-less Wildcats fool them, however, as the victory was far from smooth.
If the Bears have any hopes of opening the regular season on a high note, the last thing they would want is to play — more specifically, shoot and rebound — like they did on Wednesday night. The blue and gold just barely fended off the Division II Wildcats with sufficient points in the paint and adequate trips to the line (nearly half of which were fruitless, but trips nonetheless). However, an abysmal 2/18 from downtown and middling box-out efforts will not be enough against a Division I school like Davis.
Be that as it may, when the glass is half full, the Bears opened the game with surprising tenacity — rushing up and down the court with a strangely unfamiliar yet exhilarating pace. Newcomers Devin Askew and ND Okafor also gave the crowd glimpses of their potential in a blue and gold jersey.
Last season, Davis ranked No. 7 in a league ranked 21 places below the Pac-12, so to say that this is a daunting prospect of a match would be a bit of a stretch. Regardless, to underestimate one’s opponent is nothing but a precursor to failure.
“It’s important for us to establish our defense. Davis has a good team, a good shooting team, similar to what Chico (State) has,” said head coach Mark Fox. “So we have to be really good defensively away from the basket and defend the three-point line.”
Making one out of every three shots from beyond the arc last season, the Aggies will certainly take advantage of their perimeter scoring opportunities — something the blue and gold defense will have to keep in mind. As for the offensive landscape, given how many rim runs Wednesday night saw, the free-throw line could be the Bears’ greatest asset — or their greatest liability. No doubt, it will be the latter if Cal continues wasting 40% of its trips to the line.
Despite all the areas of improvement for the blue and gold, there is one thing they can and should duplicate from Wednesday night’s performance: effort. This one thing that every player can control regardless of any external factor is something that could win games. The exhibition game, trivial as it was in nature, had no shortage of bodies on the ground, diving for loose balls and certain transition defense plays including a few fast-break blocks.
With this in mind, the only thing Cal fans can do for now is fill the bleachers of Haas Pavilion and witness firsthand just how much fire is within the Bears’ souls.