Cal came out strong, playing a pressure defense and an opportunistic offense that for the whole first half seemed on the brink of blowing the game wide open. But you could see an attitude on the floor, an attitude of casual confidence, of superiority, unmistakably telling the Bisons they were being toyed with. As Joe Shipp drained a long series of threes, he seemed almost cocky, certainly sure of the outcome. This was Cal's first home game, after all, against a team that had been blown out by Northridge. Why not have a casual good time against an inferior team?
And then the pride backfired, the hubris disintegrated. The casual passes became too casual, and started getting picked off. The Bisons battled back into the game with pure hustle, out-scrambling the Cal team for rebounds, steals, loose balls, and dropped passes. This was not an elegant effort by either team, but the Bisons can at least be credited with making a huge effort to regain respect. Cal can't really say the same, in spite of hanging on to the end to pull out the win.
This is not to say there weren't any good moments for this Cal team. Amit pulled down a career-high 12 rebounds - even if then too many were stolen from him. Joe Shipp hit 30 points; many of them clean through the net, smooth and beautiful. Rod Benson took a charge to gain a turnover, and used his hops to snag several rebounds during his brief minutes of play. Brian Wethers had several startlingly stylish drives to the hoop, finishing off with athletic shots that fell through. And Martin Smith filled in well when both Midgley and Diggs had to sit with 4 fouls apiece. (Donte Smith is still recuperating from surgery).
So it's not all bad news, and no doubt a win is a win, especially at season-end when 19 or 20 wins are needed to move on to the post-season. But this team really will have to learn to take care of the ball. Many Cal passes were well intended - but then dropped because the recipient wasn't focused, or paying attention, or was just plain rattled by pressure. This is not a team that can win while making that many mistakes.
Braun said in the post-game show that the early part of this next week would not be spent focusing in the next opponent (Georgia at the Wooden Classic next Saturday). Instead, the team will work on its fundamentals, learning how to integrate talented youngsters with the senior leadership. And how to regain the winning edge of intensity that has constantly been a hallmark of Cal teams under Braun's tutelage.