The California Golden Bears (12-6, 2-3 in the Pac-12) have struggled to establish a consistent identity on the road this season, and that has placed their NCAA Tournament hopes in jeopardy.
Those hopes became even more of a question mark on Tuesday.
Senior point guard Tyrone Wallace has a broken right hand, which will force him to miss 4-6 weeks of action.
“You lose a key guy like Tyrone, not an easy thing to transition,” coach Cuonzo Martin said at his presser on Tuesday. “He is a tremendous leader — a presence from a guy who is battle tested.”
Wallace, who is left-handed, is currently 10th in the Pac-12 in scoring at 15.4 points per game and seventh in assists at 4.5 per contest. Both of those marks also lead his team. It’s also worth noting that Wallace is a pretty pesky perimeter defender who does a pretty good job of using his size and length to bother opposing guards. That combination of production and defensive ability is why the 6-foot-5 combo guard came into the season as an All-American candidate if Cal could put together the type of season that its roster says is possible. However, as the Golden Bears have struggled, so has he.
Wallace is shooting the ball much worse away from home this season (41 percent) than he is at Haas Pavilion (49.6 percent). He also has seen his assists per game go from nearly five per game at home down to three per game on the road. His shooting percentage as a whole — the biggest problem that he had last year — has improved with his ability to finish around the rim. However, he’s turning the ball over now on 16.2 percent of his possessions compared to 13.9 percent last season. So overall, the year just hasn’t quite gone as well as Wallace had hoped when it began.
But having said that, if there’s one player that Cal could ill-afford to lose, it was likely Wallace. It would be difficult for any team to replace the guy leading their team’s overall production on the floor. However, Cal is particularly ill-equipped to do so due to a lack of true guard depth. Junior Sam Singer will likely step into the starting lineup, and he’s an experienced combo guard that will likely be able to help out. However, it gets pretty bare beyond him. Really, the only player to see any sort of run behind him is 5-9 sophomore Brandon Chauca, who has only played in two percent of Cal’s minutes on the floor this season. That means Singer and fellow starting guard Jordan Mathews are going to have to see a ton of minutes the rest of the way for Cal to be successful.
Wallace’s timeline places him out for a pair of home games against the Arizona schools this week, a pair of road games against Utah and Colorado, a home game against rival Stanford, and likely a pair of home games against the Oregon schools. That’s a pretty rough gauntlet of seven games, and if the diagnosis takes the full six weeks the Golden Bears could also see him miss a pair of road games at Washington State and Washington plus a pair of home games against USC and UCLA.
Without him in the lineup, the goal for the Bears will be to stem the tide. Win the home games, maybe challenge for a game or two on the road, and see where you stand in the middle of February. Also, maybe get Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb more looks in the halfcourt to help their development for later in the season for when Wallace returns.
But undoubtedly, things just got much tougher for the Golden Bears. It’ll be interesting to see where they can go from this point.