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Cal's three game win streak - What's behind the recent surge?

March 8, 2019
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Winning is winning and losing is losing.   Cal had done a whole lot of the latter the past two seasons before embarking on an unlikely and exciting three-game win streak.

Taking down likely Pac-12 Champion Washington was the most surprising of the three wins but last night’s road victory over Stanford was equally satisfying.

So what’s happening here?

(1)  Connor Vanover‍ :  The true freshman with a build more reminiscent of a marathon runner than the pivot man on a Pac-12 team has clearly established himself as Cal’s best player on both sides of the ball.   HIs presence in the middle of the zone on defense has taken the Bears defense from anemic to respectable.   His ability to catch and shoot from almost anywhere on the court has made him a matchup nightmare for Cal’s opponents.  It’s not simply Vanover’s length, it’s his great hands and his competitive mindset.  He’s got the edge that all of the great ones have.  His future is VERY bright.

Cal’s staff may not have known what they had when they landed the #322 ranked 2018 recruit out of Arkansas via Las Vegas.  He came to Berkely unable to run up and down the court more than a handful of times and believe it or not was 15+lbs lighter than he is now.   After the Jan 12th loss to Arizona in which Vanover was 2 for 11 from the field, the staff appeared to lose faith in him as he played only 22 minutes combined over the next four contests.

Since he re-entered the rotation, Cal’s become more and more competitive leading to the three-game win streak in which he scored 52 points.

(2)  The Schedule:   UW came to Berkeley having won 15 of 16 and seemingly on cruise control to win the Pac 12.  A top 20 defensive team nationally, the Huskies had their worst statistical performance of the year allowing Cal to shoot 55% against them.  Cal’s hot shooting and the matchup challenges that Vanover presented were big factors as likely was UW simply looking past the Bears.   Washington State was next up, the 11th place team in the Pac 12 coming off a 48 point loss to Stanford and missing three regulars in their rotation.  If there was ever a Pac-12 game, Cal was likely to win it was this one.  The Bears then caught another piece of good fortune when starting Stanford PG, Daejon Davis missed his 2nd straight game last night.   Davis is clearly the Cardinal’s 2nd most important player behind KZ Okapala and in the previous four games he had missed, Stanford had one only one of them.   If there was a time on the schedule for Cal to get hot, this was it.

(3)  Resilience:  Wyking Jones and his staff have done a remarkable job of keeping this Cal team playing hard and believing in themselves.   Assistant Coach David Grace when asked before the UW game whether Cal could keep it close, remarked: “This team believes they can and will win this game.”  They were right and that spirit and confidence have transcended what to that point was two seasons of futility.   The mindset of Matt Bradley and Connor Vanover, two true freshmen who simply have no fear and the maturity of Justice Sueing, the Bears leading scorer have been important ingredients in this revival. 

The other thing to note, the Bears improvement didn’t start with the UW win last week.  It began ten games back when Cal lost a heartbreaker at home to Stanford.  In the subsequent ten game stretch, they’ve either won or had a chance to win eight of those games.   That’s a far cry from the previous eight Pac-12 tilts, where the Bears lost by an average of 16 points.

Discussion from...

Cal's three game win streak - What's behind the recent surge?

socaltownie
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Absolutely fair. One of the key things that you saw Connor do last night was pull the rim protector out of the paint which opens things up. We still do not play fundamentally sound baseline defense (the kids are still getting into their heads and muscle memory that connor is there to help in the 2-3) but generally speaking they are playing better.
BearGreg
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Staff
Interesting to hear what others see as the causes for the win streak as well as how you project the teams prospects in the Pac-12 tournament
socaltownie
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Oh I think we lose to Colorado - possibly big. We could beat the 'ruins or the Beavers. I have not see enough of USC to know whether (or not) we can match up with them or how they are playing. Big athletic front line (aka NOT Sharma) would give the team problems because I think you draw fouls on Connor and we need about 30 minutes out of him to have a ghost of a chance.
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