Rebuilds occur at all levels of sports. You see them when an inspiring, innovative coach can imprint a winning philosophy.
It took less than four years for visionary Mikel Arteta to guide Arsenal Football Club from a directionless mess to top of the English Premier League. Having inherited the dysfunctional Cincinnati Bengals, savvy Zac Taylor found his ideal quarterback in Joe Burrow and led his team to the Super Bowl in just three years. Last season, T. J. Otzelberger turned 2-22 Iowa State basketball into a Big-12 powerhouse in his first season on the job.
Cal is in the fourth year of Mark Fox’s project, and yet the team’s strides have only gone backwards during his tenure. The 3-20 blue and gold are suffering from a disastrous season, rock bottom of the Pac-12 and winless outside of Haas Pavilion. This season’s Bears are the lowest-scoring Cal team since the 1982-83 season, a campaign in which they still finished with a comparatively miraculous 12-16 record.
Take your pick between Cal’s problems this season: Turnovers, frigid shooting spells, perimeter defense and rebounding have all been singled out as needing to be improved or stamped out of the team’s game. But just as the team resolves one issue, another one crops up. Fox most recently cited fatigue and mentality as the main culprits in Cal’s loss to Colorado.
But not only is this season worse than what Fox inherited — it’s on pace to be the worst Cal team ever. The Bears’ 13% win percentage is the poorest of any Cal team to step on the hardwood.
Surely, it can’t get worse. Oh, but it can.
After two losses against Colorado and Utah that saw the worst offensive performances from Cal this season, the blue and gold are now coming back to their senses just in time to host star-studded No. 4 Arizona and 16-8 Arizona State.
The Wildcats are supremely talented and will not hold back when they come to Berkeley on Thursday as they battle No. 7 UCLA for the top spot in the Pac-12. When the two teams met at McKale Memorial Center earlier this season, an uncharacteristically poor shooting night from Arizona kept the final score respectable, but the Wildcats still cruised to a comfortable 81-68 win.
Arizona’s leading scorer Azuolas Tubelis is coming into the game red-hot, having racked up 40 points with a shooting percentage of 76 against Oregon just a week prior. The mismatch nightmare that Tubelis presents was unsolvable for the blue and gold in the teams’ last clash, as he eased his way to 25 points and 12 rebounds. Nobody on the Cal roster has the talent or athleticism to keep up with the big man, and his scoring devastation may be greater this time out.
Following Arizona, Cal will host Arizona State, a team that has been a middling force in the Pac-12 this season. The Sun Devils, though not at the caliber of Arizona, are still head and shoulders above Cal. They rank 176th out of 352 NCAA Division I teams in points per game — not particularly impressive but far better than Cal’s catastrophic 348th. Five Sun Devils average double figures to the Bears’ two in Devin Askew and Lars Thiemann, and the former is out for the season after sports hernia surgery.
Especially with Askew out, neither game looks winnable for Cal. The Bears have already cycled through lineups, schemes and looks to try and find something that sticks, but nothing has.
The Bears are in desperate need of an overhaul, but it’s never seemed so far away. With rock bottom nowhere in sight, where do the Bears go from here? The answer is simple: down.