Coaching does make a difference. The Cal women’s basketball team, coached by Joanne Boyle, is first in the Pac-10 Conference with an 8-0 record (17-2 overall). Meanwhile, the men’s team, coached by Ben Braun, has sunk to ninth.
So at a recent boosters meeting, Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour was asked when she would hire a men’s coach who was the equivalent of Boyle.
Braun is reportedly still there because some alumni who donate heavily to the school’s athletic program support him. Can’t fault Barbour. These alums are important to the drive for improvements to Memorial Stadium. A successful football team brings in substantially more revenue than basketball.
The Bears’ decline has been accelerated by the improvement in conference coaching; coaches such as Ben Howland at UCLA, Herb Sendek at Arizona State and Tim Floyd at Southern Cal have significantly upgraded those programs.
The Bears are significantly outcoached in most games. One example: When coaches such as Howland, Sendek and Tony Bennett at Washington State call a timeout, their teams come back on the floor with a specific play which works. When Braun calls a timeout, his players come back on the floor looking confused.
Knowledgeable observers rate Braun as the ninth coach in the conference, mirroring his team’s status. Only Oregon State’s Jay John (who was fired on Monday) is worse — and only because he wasn’t able to recruit. When their talent has been equal, John outcoached Braun in games between the two teams.
The coaching difference is especially obvious when Cal plays UCLA. Howland’s team plays a ferocious, ballhawking defense for 40 minutes. The Bears play that way only in spurts.
In the Jan. 5 game at Berkeley, the Bears played tough defense for about 10 minutes early in the second half, making steals, batting away shots and passes and made a nice run to get back into the game.
Then, Braun switched to a zone defense! The Bruins knocked down a three and got back in control of the game.
Braun’s teams used to be known for a tight defense and sluggish offense. They’re running more this season, but they can still be shut down by good defensive teams like UCLA and Washington State because they don’t know how to penetrate inside and often wind up firing off-balance three-pointers.
Meanwhile, their defense has declined precipitously, yielding far too many offensive rebounds and three-pointers.
A big part of that is the failure of DeVon Hardin to advance much beyond his potential. Harden blocks shots but his poor defensive technique causes him to get in foul trouble early. He has no offensive game. It’s almost as if he’s never been coached.
Worst of all, Braun continues to point a finger of blame at his players, instead of taking personal responsibility. He spotlighted Hardin’s inconsistent play a couple of weeks ago. After the loss to Arizona on Saturday, Braun talked of a sequence when Jerome Randle had the ball stolen and then committed a foul on the other end.
“That was a poor decision,” he said. “Jerome is human and I know he’d like to have that one back, but it’s hard to put this on one person.”
But, of course, he did.
As the crowds continue to dwindle at Haas Pavilion, it’s hard to escape the reality of what’s happening. But until the alums with deep pockets acknowledge that reality, the necessary change won’t be made.
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