BERKELEY -- California's contest against Utah was a must-win. Not only was a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament on the line, but perhaps a spot in the NCAA Tournament. With the Bears' recent struggles on the basketball court, a home win against the Utes was as close to mandatory as can be.
And in order to do that, Cal needed production from its starting shooting guards: sophomore Tyrone Wallace and senior Ricky Kreklow. The duo has been wildly inconsistent in 2014 -- with injuries and fatigue partly to blame -- but to finish the final weekend of regular season play strong, the Bears knew that they needed those two to perform well, especially on the offensive end. To further put pressure on Cal's guards, they had to match up against Utah's scoring duo of Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge, who came in combining for 31.9 points per game.
Well, to put it lightly, the Bears' offensive woes continued in a big, big way, as Cal's 63-59 home loss to the Utes continued a tumble down the standings after a 5-0 start in conference, and an upset over then top-ranked Arizona.
In fact, the Bears' late season slide might have just avalanched into what could potentially end in 9th place in the conference.
The most disappointing aspect of Cal's loss might have been that Utah looked just as bad. The Runnin' Utes -- despite 35% shooting and a combined 6-for-27 shooting night from Loveridge and Wright -- managed to do just enough to pull out their second road victory of the season.
The game started awfully for Wallace and Kreklow, as the guards combined to go 3-for-8 with eight points. Wallace also added three assists to help the Bears' general offensive output, but Cal as held to only 24 first half points on 41% shooting.
But despite their struggles in shooting the basketball, the Bears found themselves only down by two at halftime -- namely thanks to 3-for-12 shooting combined from Utah's Wright and Loveridge. Both teams were immensely lucky to be in the game, but Cal was particularly fortunate to be that close with no consistent offensive output to rely on, as Richard Solomon was shut out in the first stanza.
Unfortunately, the second half was not much better. Kreklow continued to struggle shooting the basketball, going 1-for-5 after the break, including 0-for-3 from beyond the arc. Wallace at least salvaged some offense by going 6-for-6 from the free throw line, offsetting his two missed field goals in the final 20 minutes. The offensive struggle was very real, and the inconsistent shooting from the veteran leaders helped key what might arguably be their worst loss of the season.
As a result, despite Loveridge and Wright combining for 24 points on only 6-for-27 shooting from the floor, Cal just could not generate enough offense to avoid the home upset. The shooting guards could not hold up to their name, as Wallace and Kreklow combined for 16 points on 4-for-15 shooting from the field (2-for-10 from three-point range). Not even brief scoring spurts by Jordan Mathews and Solomon – who finished the game with a team-high 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting – could save the day, and Cal can now see itself on the outside of the bubble looking in.
The Bears still have a shot, albeit a very slim one. They could beat top-25 RPI ranked Colorado on senior day, and find themselves getting some extra upsets en route to a Pac-12 Tournament championship, but that route is very, very unlikely. The best way to accomplish this would certainly require some offense -- any offense -- from the guys that need to score from the outside.
In other words, if Cal is to have a fighting chance to savage this season, they need Kreklow and Wallace to fight off fatigue, and quickly rediscover their hot stroke, and soon.
ANALYSIS: Just Plain Offensive
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