“We could just never get a stop the entire night” said head coach Mark Fox following Cal’s 34 point loss to Butler.
Regardless of the scheme Cal was in, there was little connectivity on defense. This can be attributed to Cal’s personnel, but it’s also due to its lack of principle and discipline on the defensive end.
The Bears’ absence of a point of attack defender often forces Cal to give teams zone looks, which is acceptable at the college level if a team is well-grounded in zone principles. Unfortunately, Cal is not disciplined enough on the defensive end to make up for their on-ball defensive deficiencies.
“We were a step behind everything,” said Fox on Cal’s defense.
When Cal played a zone look, which should encourage an offense to settle for perimeter shots, Butler broke it down with simple slashes and cuts. To make matters worse, the Bears were often late on rotations and when a player did get blown by, Cal’s help was often mis-timed which led to too many great looks at the rim (as Butler’s 55.2% overall field goal percentage might suggest).
Ill-advised help continues to plague the Bears this season. No defenders on Cal have amazing lateral mobility and quickness which leads to a lot of high percentage shots in the paint if there are undisciplined rotations. When teams have easy penetration into the paint, this forces Cal’s big to play up in “no man’s land”, resulting in comfortable back-door cuts.
For offensively mediocre teams like the blue and gold, the defense should be a catalyst for the offense. Cal’s halfcourt offense is unreliable, which is why it is important to play solid defense in order to get easy transition baskets or at least have the defense scrambling. Again, a lot of these issues stem from Cal’s personnel, as the Bears are simply not talented enough to execute consistent offense against a set defense. Devin Askew is their closest thing to a “go-get-a-bucket scorer”, but this type of isolation offense isn’t sustainable even for the greatest players in the world.
While the game was mostly bad, it wasn’t all bad. Cal’s silver lining was freshman forward Grant Newell’s standout performance. Relative to the rest of his teammates, Newell had himself an efficient 17 points on 7-13 shooting from the field, also sinking both of his free throws on the day.
Funnily enough, Cal actually had the two leading scorers from both sides for the game. Newell and junior guard Devin Askew both had 17-apiece while Butler’s two leading scorers had 16-apiece.
Lars Thiemann chipped in 10 rebounds, but couldn’t get many looks at the rim, only attempting five shots. Cal’s bench was essentially non-existent on the offensive end, as sophomore forward Sam Alajiki was the only scorer with five points.
In addition to the defensive woes, Cal couldn’t throw a rock into the ocean. The Bears shot an atrocious 3-21 from three and an overall 34.9% from the field. Cal taking a third of their shots from three (21 out of the 63 total shots) is basketball malpractice and shows a lack of patience on the offensive end. Settling for three point shots as a college team is already statistically unwise, but especially for a team who is shooting 25.4% on the season from distance. Regardless of makes or misses, it would be refreshing to see the Bears at least aim for a more sustainable shot palette.
Cal has dug itself in too deep of a hole to play for anything worthwhile this season, but hopefully keeping their pride is incentive enough to just keep it moving. If they can shore up some of their defensive principles, a three-win season might be obtainable.
Another silver lining for Cal and its fans? The Bears don’t play until the 18th.