ANALYSIS: Bears Late for Post Time Again

Cal once again struggled in the low post, as Arizona State -- like cross-state rival Arizona -- was able to get David Kravish in early foul trouble, as well as shooters Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews.

As the California men’s basketball team left the court in Tempe, the Bears knew they had just made their road in the Pac-12 Tournament exponentially harder, with the 74-70 loss ensuring an eight or nine seed when Cal arrives in Las Vegas next week. The Bears quickly saw eerily similar faults from their last loss to Arizona continue to be exploited during Saturday’s loss to Arizona State.

After a 9-0 start -- one of Cal’s best thus far in Pac-12 play -- the Bears looked well on their way to dominating the first half. However, two quick fouls by David Kravish -- eerily similar to the Arizona game -- proved to be a decisive factor. With 13:21 remaining in the first, Kravish was sent to the bench after picking up his second foul, and immediately, Arizona State went on a 26-14 run to end the half with a three-point lead.

However, in this game, there were many issues beyond the poor play and depth down low – all of which seemed linked.

The lack of Kravish clearly had an impact on Cal’s hot-and-cold shooting throughout the first half. The Bears started the first half on fire – 10-of-12 from the field – but as soon as Kravish left the game, the Bears’ shooting percentage started to plummet. Cal finished the half going 3-for-21, partially due to the lack of post presence, which made it much harder for the perimeter players to get open looks. A good post presence – which, for Cal, is limited to Kravish -- allows the Bears to mitigate poor shooting by going inside-out. Without Kravish – and with just Dwight Tarwater and Christian Behrens down low – Cal was limited to tough outside looks to try and get going, and while the Bears did shoot 6-of-15 from three-point range, Arizona State scored 42 points in the paint – exactly as many as the Wildcats did two nights before – while the Bears scored 34 down low.

When the outside shooting went cold, the Bears had nowhere to go. They quickly reverted back to their form from the beginning of Pac-12 play, which resulted in Tyrone Wallace and others trying to attack the basket while outnumbered. Post play, for Wallace especially, opens the lane for his drives, and without any post play, he was unable to attack Wallace went 8-of-17 for 23 points, with 18 scored in the second half, but he was largely absent in the first half when Cal needed him – with Kravish on the bench – and that’s where the momentum started to shift in a big way.

Without much help down low, the foul trouble of shooters Jabari Bird (who scored 11 of his 13 points in the first half, and sat with 4 fouls in the second) and Jordan Mathews (5 fouls) loomed even larger, as Mathews – one of the conference’s best three-point shooters – was on the bench for the final possession.

The Bears were able to stay in the game until the very end, due to quality defense (with seven steals on the game, and 11 forced turnovers) and three-point shooting, but that wasn’t enough to steal the game in Tempe. Despite a quality performance all-around, the large hole down low was still too much to overcome. The Bears have the defense, and the perimeter shooting, necessary for a quality team but what they lack in post play and depth continued to hold them back throughout the season.

While Cal hopes the possible additions of recruits Ivan Rabb and Caleb Swanigan will cure their malaise down low next season, but for now, they enter the post-season with huge holes in the post – holes that have been there from the beginning.

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