Cal coach Joanne Boyle was walking out to her car in the parking garage underneath Haas Pavilion when a group of young fans shouted her name, and said, “Good game coach!”
Boyle winced, shrugged and smiled.
Cal coach Joanne Boyle – Don Anderson file photo
She knows better.
Her young Bears (8-4) took it on the chin in the Pac-10 opener Sunday, losing to No. 9 Stanford 78-45. It was the biggest margin of victory in the series since a 41-point loss by Cal on March 5, 2005, predating Boyle’s arrival in Berkeley.
They were outsized, outhustled and outplayed. The first of those things the Bears can’t truly control. But the others…
Boyle challenged her team’s work ethic and desire after the ugly televised loss.
“If my team can find a way to play hard and decide they want to compete every night, I think we can be good,” Boyle said. “But right now we are struggling with identity and a work ethic that’s hurting us.”
Boyle isn’t under any illusions that her team has more talent than the Cardinal, who defeated the No. 4 team (Xavier) and of course, No. 1 Connecticut as precursors to the beating they handed her team Sunday.
But she believes her team is better than that final score. Better than a 23-rebound deficit. Better than getting outscored by 20 points in the paint and 17 points off turnovers. Better than 34.5 percent shooting from the floor and a 2-for-8 performance at the free-throw line.
“It’s not our talent,” Boyle said. “We told the team at the beginning of the game that there are three things you can control: transition defense – we’re fast, they shouldn’t be able to out-run us – offensive rebounds, just get a body on somebody, and contested three-point shots.”
Stanford finished with eight points on the fast break, an 18-10 advantage on the offensive boards and seven 3-pointers, five of them in the second half.
Jeanette Pohlen led Stanford with 15 points. Nneka Ogwumike had 14 until she left the game with a shoulder injury in the second half and did not return. She will be evaluated this week, but it is not believed to be serious. Stanford had five scorers in double-figures.
“They are big, but how many of our bodies were on their bodies?” Boyle said.
Cal is young. The Bears are starting four sophomores and a freshman and all of those sophomores saw significant playing time last year.
There is size inside with DeNesha Stallworth, Talia Caldwell and Rama N’Diaye, though what appears now to be a season-ending injury to Gennifer Brandon, test the depth a little bit.
But Stallworth, the team’s leading scorer and rebounding coming in, was a non-factor Sunday.
She was 0-for-2 from the floor, finished with two points at the free-throw line, one defensive rebound, three turnovers and four personal fouls.
Boyle was asked to characterize Stallworth’s game and she declined except to say that both Caldwell and N’Diaye managed to get some looks in the post. Both finished with 10 points.
This is a team in need of leadership, but Boyle said the personalities aren’t there.
Her players, she said, “haven’t grabbed it yet.”
“They just need to go. No seniors are just going to appear for us. They need to decide they are going to (lead),” Boyle said. “When you are young, I think you always look to defer to older kids. There is no deferring. It’s them. It’s a group of freshmen and sophomores that are going to have to decide if they are going to do it together.”
What was particularly damning was Boyle’s criticism of her team’s work ethic.
“This has been a struggle for us. The thing I’ve really been proud of our teams in the past is that we always worked hard. We worked hard, we had a passion,” Boyle said. “We don’t have an identity this year, 11-12 games in, and we are a passive team right now and it’s really hurting us.
“You can definitely chalk it up to some youth, but not to give them an excuse on that. They are sophomores, but they are not sophomores who have sat on the bench. They are sophomores who have played.”
Boyle said perhaps her players are “too nice to each other” in practice. They are not steeling each other for what is going to be a grind in the Pac-10 with improved teams all over the conference.
“They need to compete. We don’t have a competitiveness about us just yet…consistently. And you’re not even going to be in a game with a team like this unless you are going to compete.”