In the beginning of the men’s basketball season, The Daily Californian printed an article that compared Cal fans looking for hope in their team to moths that follow a light in a dark room. For a brief time, Cal basketball was that light, but now it is dangerously close to being extinguished.
Cal’s last chance at keeping the hope alive might be Thursday, when the team travels across the bay to face Stanford for its Pac-12 opener.
The Bears must be hoping the new year brings a new fire to the team after the way they closed out their nonconference schedule. Despite starting an impressive 4-0 this season, Cal finished 2-7 in its last nine games.
Much of the Bears’ struggles stem from their inconsistency, which can create opportunities for their opponents to take control of the game, even when they have a large lead. Dropping a few rebounds or missing a couple of free throws often gives opposing teams control of the game.
“We just didn’t play the full 40 minutes,” said Cal head coach Mark Fox after his team’s loss against Boston College. “Against quality teams, you don’t have to play the full 40, but if you can play the 38 or 39 you’re going to have a chance to overcome the one or two that you didn’t play well.”
Comparing this season’s six wins to previous seasons, it’s hard to see any improvement for Cal. In Wyking Jones’ tenure as head coach during the previous two seasons, the team won six and five nonconference games in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
With such a young team and a new coaching staff, however, six wins is enough to be cautiously optimistic — especially considering the transfer fiasco last offseason.
“The thing with this team is that maybe because of the previous struggles they haven’t been in a position to play with large leads very often,” Fox said. “Some teams that maybe haven’t had a lot of success or maybe they’re a little immature or young … because they don’t play with the same attention to detail, sometimes you can give those leads up. That’s something I think the more we get in that position, the better we’ll handle it.”
Although this game may set the tone for the rest of the Bears’ season, it will definitely be a tall order to defeat the Cardinal. They are 11-2 this season and their only two losses are to now-No. 11 Butler, by only one point, and No. 3 Kansas last week. Stanford has also received a singular top 25 vote in the most recent AP Poll.
Junior forward Oscar da Silva and freshman guard Tyrell Terry lead Stanford in scoring with more than 15 points per game each. The Cardinal’s biggest strength, however, is defense. Although it has played high-powered offenses such as Kansas, Butler, San Francisco and Oklahoma, Stanford’s defense holds its opponents to only 58.8 points on average, which is 13th best in the nation.
The Cardinal’s defense is bad news for the Bears, whose offense is the weakest part of the team. Cal ranks 311th nationally in points scored per game. For the Bears to win this game, they must play a game with sound fundamentals and limit their unforced errors. They don’t need another player to chuck threes, they need to defend their rim, rebound aggressively and drive to the basket instead of throwing up jump shots. With a little luck and a lot of hard work, Cal might just pull it off and turn its season around.
Trilok Reddy covers men’s basketball. Contact him at email@example.com.