California has a problem that it’s going to need to rectify if it wants to make the NCAA Tournament this season.
It needs to start winning on the road.
The Golden Bears fell to 1-6 away from Haas Pavilion this season, dropping a 77-71 decision to rival Stanford on Thursday. The stars for Stanford were Rosco Allen and Marcus Allen, who both had a double-double, with Rosco pouring in 22 points and Marcus dropping 16.
For Cal, Tyrone Wallace played well, scoring 17 points, grabbing seven rebounds and adding four assists. But overall, the offense sputtered throughout again. Cuonzo Martin’s team shot 41 percent from the field and continued to struggle with turnovers. The depth was a problem, as the Bears’ bench only scored five points on the night. Another problem was foul trouble, as Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb only played 22 minutes apiece because of it.
But more than that, this team just isn’t quite living up to the talent level that it has on its roster. All too often, the offense stagnates. The defense is solid, but it forces turnovers at a lower rate than all but one team in the entire country. That harms its ability to get out in transition, where despite having a team built to run led by Wallace and Brown, the Golden Bears are only middle of the pack nationally in possessions on the break.
It’s possible that playing more aggressively and taking more risks could help get easier baskets when the half-court offense goes into the tank. But that’s not exactly Martin’s style defensively. Since he took over at Tennessee in 2012, Martin’s teams have never finished above 256th nationally in turnover rate defensively. He’s a guy who believes in tough man-to-man principles, forcing tough shots and finishing the possession with a rebound. It seems unlikely to happen given his past and established grind-it-out coaching philosophy, but an adjustment to playing a slightly more up-tempo, pressure-based defensive scheme could really help on both ends of the floor.
It could also help the Bears away from home, where they are 1-6 and a missed free throw from Wyoming’s Josh Adams — an 81 percent foul shooter — from being winless. Part of winning on the road is confidence, especially for young players. Maybe a few more opportunities to see an easy layup or an emphatic dunk go down early could help these guys get going.
Regardless of what the actual fix might be, it’s clear that one is needed. The Golden Bears are hurtling toward a somewhat disappointing campaign despite the presence of a potential All-American, two five-star recruits and solid experienced depth on the wing. They’re at risk of missing the NCAA Tournament if things don’t change quickly.