Cal’s disappointing season reached its end on Wednesday afternoon, as the blue and gold were eliminated by Oregon State to the tune of 63-71 in the opening round of the Pac-12 tournament.
Like many games this season, the Bears got off to a slow start, finding themselves down 12 at the half. But as was the case in many games later this season, they picked it up in the second half, finding a way to keep their opponents within striking distance. The blue and gold outscored the Beavers in the second half by a slim four-point margin, but it was not enough to dig themselves out of the first-half hole. Oregon State’s depth proved too much for Cal to handle, as the Beavers’ bench poured in 22 points to the Bears’ nine.
A point of emphasis of Cal head coach Charmin Smith’s squad this season was effort – even in the face of immense adversity. This game was no exception as the Bears both outrebounded and nabbed more second-chance points than the Beavers. So while Oregon State’s depth across the roster was on full display, so too was Cal’s relentless motor.
The Bears are a young team, and this game seemingly indicated that they have a promising foundation for the future. Despite the intensity, defensive prowess and first-time jitters that are inevitable in the playoffs, Cal did not appear to be fazed by the bright lights of Las Vegas. The Bears had four players score in double-figures and limited themselves to 11 turnovers, nearly slicing their average number of turnovers per game in half. Performing better under pressure is no easy task, but this team somewhat surprisingly flashed an ability to do so.
Cal couldn’t exorcise all of its past demons, however. The Bears failed to knock down free throws throughout Wednesday afternoon’s clash, a problem that has shadowed them since the beginning of the season. Except in the playoffs, those mistakes become magnified. When Cal was missing free throws early in the season, games were usually already too far out of reach. However, yesterday was a different story. The blue and gold shot an abysmal 50% from the charity stripe – in a game that was ultimately decided by eight points, six missed free throws seemed to feel like so much more.
If the blue and gold want to make some noise next season, they have to convert on give-me baskets and free opportunities. Good free throw shooting is a hallmark of winning teams – but shooting 66.3% from the free throw line, as a team, on the season isn’t good. Combine that with the fact that the Bears averaged over 20 turnovers per game this season, and perhaps no amount of talent could save Smith’s team from the writing on the wall. In short, Cal must build winning habits over the offseason in order to field a competitive team in what has proven to be a deep conference.
The Bears may have finished last in the Pac-12 with a 1-16 overall record, but their record alone doesn’t paint a full picture of everything they had to overcome. Cal was down its projected starting backcourt all season-long, battled injuries to key members, struggled with multiple COVID-19-induced postponements and implemented new players on the fly. Yet, through it all, Smith’s group persevered and even improved as the season progressed.
The Bears are just two years removed from a winning record and an appearance in the NCAA tournament. Now, they can only look to regroup, build off of the lessons they learned this season and bounce back even stronger next winter.
Justin Kim covers women’s basketball and men’s water polo. Contact him at email@example.com.