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Braun fired

I had heard rumors of this Tuesday morning, but I was still surprised when the news broke today that Basketball Head Coach Ben Braun was fired.

After watching the Bears flail against a eminently beatable Ohio State, I think it is probably wise to be looking for another coach. There’s too much talent on this team for them to be playing so mediocre.

Cal Basketball in danger of falling through floor

After a promising start, the Bears are in a free-fall right now after losing to Arizona on Saturday night 75-79. This was a game the Bears had completely in control midway through the 2nd half, being up by as much as 7 with as little as 7 minutes left. I was able to watch the 2nd half of the game on TV and was able to see the Bears both at their best and at their mind-numbing worst.

Early in the 2nd half, the Bears were playing a very effective zone defense that had Arizona completely stumped. The Bears were both applying good outside pressure and preventing Arizona from either passing the ball inside or driving into the lane. On the other side of the ball, the Bears were doing a great job of both being patient to find the open shot or inside passing opportunity and to make the most of their transition and early shooting opportunities.

What a difference a timeout or two can make.

Down the stretch, the Bears were somehow simulatiously over pursuing on defense on the perimeter, giving lots of passing/driving opportunities to the inside, while also focusing too much on the inside defense and giving Arizona lots of ridiculously open looks on the perimeter. To Arizona’s credit, they started knocking down a lot of those open outside shots, particularly the 3-pointers. On offense the Bear faired no better, looking desperate and out of control. There were a disgusting number of un-forced turnovers as well as poorly chosen shots that had no hope from the outset, particularly on the inside where Arizona stepped up their defense dramatically. Instead of the Bears kicking the ball out to their open perimeter shooters, they forced some easily blocked inside shots.

The result is that the Bears DESPERATELY need a turn-around victory to halt this free-fall. Losing both games on a home weekend is a disaster for any team’s tournament hopes particularly in a tough conference like the Pac-10. Depending on how one looks at it, having Stanford at home next Saturday is either a golden opportunity to turn things around or a disaster in the making.

Basketball setback vs. ASU

Arizona State is definitely the surprise team of the Pac-10 this year. They’re undefeated in Pac-10 play, beating Oregon, Arizona and now Cal on the road in the process. Originally they were a candidate in my analysis along with Oregon State and possibly Washington for the Bears to be able to beat twice to get to the 9-9 Pac-10 record that is likely needed to get to the NCAA tournament. That made last night’s game a critical one because it would show whether Cal had even a remote chance of sweeping the ASU games.

As it turned out, ASU was for real and although Cal put up a valiant effort, they fell in double overtime 90-99. Since the game wasn’t televised, it’s hard to give a detailed analysis, but it looks like the Bears ran out of gas on defense, particularly in the 2nd overtime.

So the question becomes, who can Cal make up the delta on? It now looks like instead of going 2-0 vs. ASU, Cal will likely go 0-2 with the road game against ASU still to come. That’s two games that need to be found somewhere, assuming that Cal still goes 0-2 against both WSU and UCLA.

To me, the candidates for a 2-0 record to offset the three 0-2 teams are Oregon State, who Cal has already beat on the road, Washington, who Cal hasn’t faced yet but did beat Oregon at home last night, Arizona, who’s looking weaker and weaker but hasn’t yet faced Cal, and USC, who Cal beat at home fairly handily suggesting that the Bears have a shot at the road win too.

That makes Saturday’s game against Arizona all the more key to a NCAA tournament appearance. Hopefully the Bears can rebound from the tough OT loss and stick it to a weaker than expected Arizona.

Cal Basketball continues on track

Last weekend was another “meet expectations” weekend for the Cal Basketball team. They went up to Oregon and went 1-1, losing to Oregon on Thursday and beating Oregon State on Sunday. The game against Oregon was both frustrating and encouraging as the Bears dug themselves a hole that they almost climbed themselves out of and pulled off the upset before running out of gas at the end. The game against OSU was, after a worrisome start, a sluggish performance on both sides with the big difference being OSU’s inability to land their shots from the floor, particularly their 3’s. OSU moved pretty well, but they were a very poor shooting team, at least last weekend.

Next up this week is the Arizona schools at home. This is a key weekend for the Bears as the need to win both games to keep on track to make the tournament under the assumption that at best they’ll be able to go 1-1 against those teams when they face them on the road in mid-February.

ASU is the big question mark in the conference as they’re 3-0 in confernece play, having beat the Oregon schools and Arizona, all at home, and 13-2 overall against a fairly mediocre non-conference schedule (not that Cal’s non-conference schedule is any better). Here’s hoping that the early stretch of home games makes them look deceptively good and they’ll struggle in their first conference road game in Berkeley on Thursday (no TV coverage).

Arizona was supposed to be better this year but has struggled so far. Their only conference win is over lowly OSU although their non-conference schedule was a tough that they did acceptably in. Nevertheless, this is a potent team that Cal will have to play their best against to win, although it is definitely reasonable to expect a win out of the Bears on Saturday. Check it out on Comcast SportsNet at 5:00 PM.

Bears fall WAY short against UCLA

Well, it wasn’t a win they needed, but it would have been a nice one to gain/keep momentum, for the Bears basketball team. Everything that went right against USC, went wrong against UCLA. The big guys were unable to penentrate inside the paint or get the rebounds and the team was mostly ineffective shooting from just about anywhere on the floor. All things considered it was surprising the Bears only lost 58-70.

For a short while it looked like the Bears were going to get back in the game when the Bears went on a 10-2 run to start the 2nd half, closing the score to 35-38, but the effort required to make that run, pretty much did the Bears in for the rest of the game. Although they were able to keep the score around a 5-8 point deficit until late in the game, it was clear the Bears didn’t have the intensity to come back.

Such is life. UCLA is one of the nation’s best teams with a smothering defense so this is a game they weren’t supposed to win. If the can go to the state of Oregon next week and go 1-1 against those two teams they will continue on track to make the NCAA Tournament.

Cal Basketball beats USC

I know what some of you are thinking… what’s EMFMV doing covering basketball!?! These are football guys right?

Yeah, we’re football guys, there’s no doubt about it. You haven’t heard a word about the basketball team so far this season. But once football season is over, there’s no harm in covering basketball, right? OK, the truth of the matter is that I’m traditionally not a big fan of basketball, particularly pro-basketball. But last year I covered a handful of games for and saw just how different college basketball is from the NBA. You know, things like team work and defense and egos small enough that their heads would fit through the hoop should they try. So, while I’ll always be a football guy, you’ll see more basketball coverage these days.

Back to the game…

Cal played what many believed to be a critical game last night for their chances to make it to the tournament against USC. It breaks down like this: Everyone believes it takes 18 wins for a Pac-10 team this year to make the tournament. Cal went 9-2 in non-conference play losing to Kansas St. on the road in a fairly tight game and to Utah at home in an EXTREMELY tight game. Kansas St. gets a lot of respect and is expected to be a tournament contender. Utah, although not great, has played good ball against a lot of good teams. What all of that means is that Cal’s non-conference schedule is good enough that an 18 win season seems like it’ll get the job done.

What that means is that Cal has to go 9-9 versus Pac-10 teams. Said another way, for every team Cal loses to twice (for the un-initiatied, in basketball each team plays every conference opponent twice, once at home, once on the road), it must beat another team twice. Breaking that down, the best teams in the conference are WSU and UCLA, so one has to assume that Cal loses to each of them twice. Oregon St. and one of Arizona St. and Washington are likely candidates for Cal to beat twice. The rest are in the middle. That means that Cal has to go 1-1 against the rest. All 4 of the remaining teams, USC, Arizona, Oregon and Stanford are definitely beatable, but winning at home will be key for Cal. That makes those 4 home games potentially critical games.

All of that is a long way of explaining that Cal needed a win against USC last night in their Pac-10 opener against USC at home. Boy did the Bears deliver in the 2nd half, winning 92-82. With just over 7 minutes to play, Cal had a tight 66-65 lead when Eric Vierneisel busted two consecutive 3-pointers to open the game up and start a 15-3 run that was the difference maker in the game. The final notable part of the game was how well Cal did with rebounding in the 2nd half, particularly during that run.

It’s great to see Vierneisel doing well. I interviewed him last season and he’s a very unassuming and almost shy guy. He’s also a guy that you don’t ever see being very popular with the fans, in part because of his demeanor. But he seemed to have a good head on his shoulders and had insightful things to say about the game and his teammates. Here’s hoping he continues to play well on the court to become a fan favorite!

Go Bears!