If the contest proved anything it's that Ben Braun is going to earn his pay this year. His Bears team looks more like a utility tool belt than a basketball squad. He clearly has individual pieces, exemplified by the perimeter shooting display put on by Amit Tamir. The challenge is which pieces to use when and in what combination. Does he let AJ Diggs run his team in order to set the proper defensive mindset. Or, does he lose patience in Diggs poor decision making and lack of shooting acumen and allow the inexperienced Richard Midgley to run the team. When Cal needs rebounding, Ben has to look no farther than Gabe Hughes. If you want scoring down low, Hughes isn't your man, but Conor Famulener can hit the open jumper. Even Tamir with his offensive outburst today looked a whole lot more like a small forward than the tallest player on the court.
When Braun wants to put his best five players on the floor, his first question is "Best at what"? With starting center Stephen Thomas out until December 17th, Georgia was a team with a glaring weakness inside. Cal, on the other hand, started two 6'11" players. Advantage Bears? Not so fast. The quicker and more athletic Bulldogs proved to be tougher down low. In a contest where the teams stars neutralized one another and neither team could shut down the other from 3 point range, this game was decided underneath the hoop. Georgia's dominance of the boards and easy baskets inside made the difference.
Cal opened an eight point lead late in the first half and for a brief moment looked to take control. Unfortunately, sloppy ball handling (something that has plagued Cal this early season) allowed the Bulldogs to forge a tie going into halftime. Georgia used its momentum to start the second half and quickly built a seven point advantage. Cal came back behind Amit Tamir's torrid perimeter shooting, and the game went back and forth all the way to the buzzer. The story within the game was the previously mentioned match up between preseason All American Jarvis Hayes and Cal's own Joe Shipp. Hayes quickness and leaping ability stymied Shipp all game long while Shipp's strength and smarts acted as quicksand for Hayes. While neither could find any offensive rhythm all game long, Hayes rose to the occasion down the stretch and made the game's two most important plays. The first came with less than a minute left in regulation, and Georgia trailing by one point. Cal's defense forced the Bulldogs to wind down the shot clock, leaving a desperation 18' fadeaway by Hayes as their only shot. Hayes rainbow over Shipp's outstretched hand was pure and gave Georgia a temporary lead. Brian Wethers was called on to take the final shot for Cal and he was fouled as he missed a fadeaway jumper with 12 seconds left. After missing his second free throw, Amit Tamir came up with the rebound and Cal had a chance to shoot for the win. On cue, Cal gave the ball right back to Georgia with an unforced turnover and luckily the Bulldogs missed at the buzzer to send the game into OT. Cal's last chance in OT occurred when Amit Tamir found a wide open Brian Wethers slashing to the hoop. Jarvis Hayes continued his MVP when it counts the most campaign and made a clean weak side block on Wethers, effectively ending the Bears hopes.
Backing up and looking at the game from a holistic perspective, it's difficult not to be a bit concerned about the Bears. Not only did Cal display almost no real inside presence, they failed to hold onto the ball for the fourth time in four games. Diggs was once again a pest on defense, but he struggled to run the Bears offense against a strong Georgia defense. Cal's defense played smart and hard for most of the game but was crippled by an inability to get out on Georgia's better perimeter shooters while allowing the Bulldogs to play patty cake on the offensive glass. More importantly to this point, Cal looks like a team of solid role players instead of a squad with complete, all around skills. Braun's ability to either round out his teams skillset or to find combinations that allow the players strengths rather than the weaknesses to dictate the teams performance will likely determine how far the Bears go this season.
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