BERKELEY, Calif. – Only taking margin of defeat into consideration, Washington State’s 48-point loss to Stanford earlier in the week still goes down as the most humiliating of the Cougars’ 2018-19 season.
But if other metrics and various advanced rankings are taken into account, Thursday’s dud at Maples Pavilion might have some company now.
WSU made a late push to avoid losing to the worst team in the Pac-12 – and arguably the worst in college basketball at the Power Five level – but buried underneath a pile of their own mistakes, the shorthanded Cougars suffered another embarrassing defeat in the Bay Area, falling 76-69 to California at Haas Pavilion.
The margin of defeat looks minor when placed next to the near 50-point thumping Stanford put on WSU two days earlier. But Cal was an opponent that looked infinitely more beatable, at least on paper.
The Golden Bears entered the game with a NET ranking that was 62 spots lower than the next-best Power Five team and a KenPom ranking that was 56 spots lower than WSU’s.
Not to mention the Cougars had flattened the same Cal team 82-59 more than a month earlier at Beasley Coliseum.
But whatever life the Golden Bears got from upsetting first-place Washington two days earlier seemed to carry over, while the Cougars still looked drained from the biggest loss of the Ernie Kent regime. It didn’t help they were still playing with a three-man bench because of concussions to forward Jeff Pollard and guards Viont’e Daniels and Carter Skaggs.
Robert Franks gave WSU an early lift, but the Pac-12’s top scorer had just six points in the second half after a 12-point first. CJ Elleby, playing at Haas Pavilion for the first time since his father Bill played for Cal more than two decades earlier, led all scorers with 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
But Franks and Elleby were also responsible for seven turnovers – less than half of WSU’s team total.
“Too many mistakes, we left too many points on the floor,” Kent said. “If you give a team 30 points off your turnovers, you shouldn’t even be in the game. Yet there were a couple times we were right there to turn the tide of the game, turn the momentum and we didn’t do it with our turnovers.”
The Cougars bounced basketballs off their feet, threw errant passes right into Cal’s white jerseys and fumbled the same passes their opponents were fielding cleanly.
Five WSU players had at least three turnovers, and the Cougars finished with 20 compared to 11 for Cal. The Golden Bears scored 30 points off turnovers, while the Cougars managed only six.
“A little careless then we just weren’t being aggressive enough,” Elleby said, “and not making enough plays for each other.”
Cal led from start to finish and extended the lead to as many as 15 points with about 10 minutes to play in the second half. But WSU’s attention to detail on the defensive end – coupled with some timely 3-point shooting – allowed the Cougars to climb back into the game.
“We wanted to get out in transition a little more. We felt like we weren’t playing as fast as we could,” Elleby said. “We were kind of just sitting in the half court and we’re more of a transition team. We’re at our best when we’re running up and down and playing in transition. So we wanted get back to that.”
Marvin Cannon had a chance to make it a four-point game with 6:06 left after he was fouled on a 3-point attempt, but the Pac-12’s most accurate free-throw shooter only made 1 of 3 attempts, and Cal’s Darius McNeill connected on a 3 to give the Bears a nine-point cushion.
Franks followed with a 3-pointer, but the Cougars couldn’t get a stop on the other end and Cal flirted with a double-digit lead the rest of the way.
McNeill finished with 17 points for Cal, Paris Austin added 12, and Justice Sueing and Connor Vanover each had 10.
“Cal, they played well, but I think a lot of it was just us,” WSU guard Jervae Robinson said. “A lot of internal errors that we had just taking care of the ball. That was the biggest thing tonight.”
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