With Ricky Kreklow out after breaking his right hand California entered Sunday night’s game at Creighton shorthanded, and things would get even worse in their 68-54 loss to the Bluejays. Late in the first half freshman Jabari Bird, who moved back into the starting lineup in place of Kreklow, went down with a right ankle injury and did not return. Without those two perimeter options the game became a struggle for the Golden Bears offensively, as they shot 36.4% from the field and 5-for-24 from beyond the arc.
Now Creighton certainly deserves credit for this, as their work defensively in the half-court and on the boards made life difficult for Cal. Greg McDermott’s team not only posted its best points allowed per possession number since their win over Arizona State on Sunday night, allowing Cal to score just 0.87 points/possession, but they also completed many of those defensive possessions as they rebounded 76.3% of Cal’s missed shots.
Creighton’s defense helped them navigate a slow start offensively, and by the end of the game Doug McDermott tallied a double-double (20 points, 11 rebounds) and Austin Chatman (11 points) and Grant Gibbs (ten) reached double figures as well.
As for California the offensive struggles reveal the fact that for all the talent at Mike Montgomery’s disposal, this team is still a work in progress due to the youth of many of those pieces. And if injuries become a major issue the process becomes even more difficult. Guards Justin Cobbs and Tyrone Wallace combined to score 25 points, but they did so shooting 8-for-23 from the field.
It can also be argued that senior center Richard Solomon (six points on 2-for-3 shooting) didn’t get enough quality looks inside, and Cal needs offensive balance in order to be at their best. David Kravish can provide offense as well for the Golden Bears, and this tandem will be need to be productive consistently when Pac-12 play begins.
While Sunday’s result certainly represents a missed opportunity for Cal from a resume standpoint given their losses to Dayton, Syracuse and UCSB, with their “best” win coming against Arkansas, the bigger concern is this team’s health. Kreklow’s going to be out of the lineup for the foreseeable future, and that was known entering the game. But if they lose Bird as well, the growth of the other freshmen and Cal’s interior play become even more important.