At 4-2 in the league, Stanford is now alone in 4th place. Coach Ben Braun said, "I'm really impressed with what Stanford has accomplished, especially on the defensive end. They have made it very difficult for their opponents."
In Cal's disappointing pair of home defeats last weekend against the Arizona schools, Cal's own defensive shortcomings were apparent. As Braun said after the game, "We were (just) exchanging baskets in both games."
On Thursday night against ASU, Cal allowed the visitors to shoot 58% - and lost Ty Abbott on several crucial possessions. Abbott burned the Bears with his wide-open game-tying trey with eight seconds left in regulation as Cal failed to negotiate the staggered screens set by the Devils.
On Saturday, Cal played a lot of zone and turned Arizona into a jump shooting team for most of the game. "Unfortunately, some of the closeouts were slow, and errors were made by teammates helping off shooters," said Braun. Later he added, "We have to do a good job of trying to make a shooter a driver and a driver a shooter."
Arizona made 11 three-pointers, and hit 51% of their shots overall.
Down the stretch, in the last 6 minutes of the game, Cal got only 1 defensive stop in 12 possessions. Adding 5 Cal turnovers to that period created the recipe for defeat.
Said Braun, "Obviously, turnovers were a big factor - (as well as not) getting a couple of more opportune stops. We're going to have to get better in that area."
In their 4 conference losses, Cal's defensive liabilities have been a key factor. Here are the opponent's shooting percentages in those games:
Cal's defensive field goal percentage in conference games so far is 47%, not good enough to succeed.
For all the complaining about the offense over the years, this team can score. The Bears just haven't been able to stop anybody, especially at the end of close games.
Their inability to defend at the point of attack is the major source of the problem. On the telecast of the Arizona game, former Stanford coach Mike Montgomery noted that Cal was over-committing to help. In the first half, they were helping off shooters, but thereby allowing the Wildcats open looks.
For all their defensive strengths, Stanford has been shooting only 40% from the floor in their six conference games. They have been winning ugly - but other teams have had a way of finding their shooting stroke against Cal's defense too.
Arizona, for example, shot just 38% against Stanford last Thursday, then found the range against Cal on Saturday. ASU followed up their scorching performance against Cal on Thursday with an anemic 35% shooting against the Cardinal on Saturday.
Knowing that nothing will come easily on offense, Cal will simply have to defend better this Saturday to have a chance. They cannot allow Stanford to get open looks. Said Braun, "We have to really force teams out of the area (where) they're comfortable."
Saturday afternoon would be a good time to start doing exactly that. This Stanford team is hitting just 28% of their threes in league play.
Cal will have to have a big game from both DeVon Hardin and Randle to win - but that's pretty much always going to be the case.
As Braun finally said, "If we get Jerome's best, that's pretty good."
It should be good enough for the Bears to win, if - and only if - they can find their way to defense for all 40 game minutes.
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