ANALYSIS: Cougars Edge Cal at Home

BERKELEY -- Cal's offensive struggles continue in an uneven effort against Washington State at Haas Pavilion on Sunday night.

BERKELEY -- Despite their victory over No. 21 Washington on Friday night, the California Golden Bears (11-4, 1-1) have been in a bit of an offensive funk in recent weeks. Not only did the Bears go on an 0-for-10 shooting streak against the Huskies in the first half of Friday’s game, but they also managed muster up only 56 and 52 points against Wisconsin and CSU Bakersfield, respectively.

The offensive woes continued on Sunday night—a disappointing 69-66 home loss to Washington State. Much of the Bears' recent offensive struggles have to do with the absence of guard Jabari Bird—arguably Cal’s best offensive player. With Bird’s absence, the Bears have needed outstanding production from guard Tyrone Wallace.

Wallace came into Sunday averaging 19.1 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game, garnering national attention for his outstanding play. California needed every ounce of production from Wallace to get out to one of their best starts in team history. So it should not be of much surprise that as Wallace has labored in recent weeks, so have the Bears.

That trend would continue on Sunday. Cal shot a mere 38% from the field, with Wallace managing to go 4-for-14 (29%) himself. While Wallace’s shooting was subpar, his overall affect on the offensive end could be summed as a tale of two halves.

The Bears labored to 20 first half points against the Cougars, shooting only 7-for-27 from the field (26%) while committing 5 turnovers. Unsurprisingly, Wallace led the Bears in first half points with 6. But his 1-for-7 shooting from the field was symbolic of the Bears’ recent overreliance on Wallace and his recent struggles, resulting in the second-lowest 1st half offensive output of the season.

To his credit, Wallace’s aggressive nature was not absent in that first half. Wallace kept attacking the basket with regularity and did not just settle for jump shots, though the results were just not coming in. In the opening moments of the game, Wallace found forward Christian Behrens on a nice pick-and-roll, but Behrens was blocked on his dunk attempt. Moments later, Wallace did dish out a nice assist on a Sam Singer layup to get Cal on the scoreboard.

But the rest of the first half was Wallace becoming dependent on his scoring ability in close-range…perhaps a bit too much. Wallace was 0-for-6 from inside the 3-point line, throwing up a few erratic shots from inside the paint. The aggressive play did earn 2 trips to the charity stripe (resulting in 3 points). But for the most part, Wallace’s errant offense from close range contributed mightily to the Bears’ offensive struggles.

“Some games we’re on, some games we’re off,” Wallace said in the postgame press conference. “That’s basically it.

“We have got to attack the rim aggressively, get to the line, make layups, shoot the ball with confidence. That’s how we make them pay.”

The Bears needed Wallace to continue with his aggressive play in the second half, but be much smarter with his shot selection. With the opportunity to get the Cal to 2-0 in Pac-12 play, Wallace improved his play in the second half.

Wallace continued his aggressive approach, but settled for much better looks around the rim—particularly early in the period. Wallace started the half hitting his first 3 buckets of the second half—all on shots within 5 feet of the basket. Wallace also took full advantage of the defense keying and collapsing on him, resulting in open shots for Roger Moute a Bidias and Jordan Mathews (24 points) outside.

Ultimately, Wallace finished the second half with 10 points on 3-for-7 shooting from the floor, with 2 of his 3 misses coming late on desperation 3-point attempts. In addition, Wallace recorded 4 assists and 5 rebounds, improving his overall play significantly enough to at least get the Bears’ offense rolling late. While Wallace’s play improved enough to lead Cal to 46 second-half points, the overall play for the entire game was just not good enough to beat a team that had zero road wins on the season.

“We’re going to continue to work [on offense] in practice,” said Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin after the game. “It’s a matter of confidence. We will to continue to work on it.

“We’ve got to get to the rim to force the referees to make the call. It is just a matter of getting confidence and making plays.”

Ultimately, the Bears fell due to their inability to convert from close range and their lack of interior size, resulting in many easy points for Washington State.

But as far as the Bears’ offense is concerned, they need their veteran guard to carry the load on a game-by-game basis, making good decisions with the ball to at least give his team some chance to score. Until Jabari Bird can hopefully come back from his foot injury, Wallace will have to be Superman. On Sunday night, he was just not good enough with the ball—particularly early on—to give his team a chance to win.

Moving forward, Cal will need Wallace to play like the Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate to keep Cal’s hope of a postseason tournament berth alive.

Starting with a very winnable trip to Los Angeles to face struggling USC and UCLA next week.


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