By Morris Phillips
Without doubt, the Cal Bears saw the skill and fury of No. 6 Wichita State on Monday in Maui, but not until the unranked Bears shredded the Shockers’ defense and built an 18-point lead with 16 minutes remaining.
What transpired in the final minutes was all Wichita State–primarily their depth inside–enough to eviscerate Cal’s big lead and craft a double-digit win for the Shockers, 92-82. In the process of the topsy-turvy affair however, the Bears may have developed an identity, one they hope will carry them further than the bottom-feeder expectations they were labeled with in the pre-season.
“Ultimately experience won out today,” Coach Wyking Jones said of what derailed his Bears in the final minutes. “But the guys definitely gave us everything that they had. At the end of the day, what I’ve been preaching the whole time is that hopefully we get better game in and game out. So I felt like we got better today.”
Don Coleman scored 26 of his 35 points in Cal’s full court pressure-fueled first half. But as soon as Cal extended their nine-point halftime lead to 58-40 with 15:32 remaining, WSU responded with a trapping defense of their own that changed the tide. Wichita State’s 10-0 run got them within seven, and then an 8-0 run capped by Samajae Haynes-Jones jumper tied the score at 76 with 5:19 remaining.
Burly senior Shaquille Morris scored six of his team-best 25 points in the ensuing three minutes as the Shockers seized controlled, buoyed by foul trouble that enveloped both Cal posts, Kingsley Okoroh and Marcus Lee. Both Okoroh and Lee would foul out, combining for just four points and nine rebounds in 32 combined minutes.
Landry Shamet energized WSU with 23 points in 24 minutes on the floor. Frontcourt reserve Rauno Nurger chipped in 11 points, six rebounds as the Shockers only other double-figure scorer. Shamet and Nurger combined to shoot 13 of 16 from the floor.
Cal got 20 points from Justice Sueing and 16 from Darius McNeill. Cal’s two freshman starters helped initially in repelling WSU’s run, combining for 15 of their 36 points after Cal achieved their biggest lead, but neither scored a basket in the game’s final four minutes.
“I don’t know if you guys know it or not, but (Sueing) was out for six weeks with a stress fracture,” Jones said. “He was out so long my staff and I kind of forgot what he really did for us or provided for us. So we’re all kind of seeing it like you all are seeing what he was able to bring to the table, night in and night out. He plays with a lot of poise and a lot of confidence.”
The Bears will face Virginia Commonwealth in the consolation bracket on Tuesday. VCU fell to Marquette, 94-82 in the tournament opener. Malik Crowfield hit five three-pointers and paced the Rams with 17 points.
Wichita State will face Marquette in the semifinals. Coach Gregg Marshall didn’t like what his team showed early against Cal, but Marshall’s bench didn’t disappoint, outscoring Cal’s reserves 30-7. The Bears got just two baskets from their six players that got time off the bench as the Bears wilted visibly late.
“I was disappointed in the way we played in the first half. Give Cal credit. Their zone was interesting and made it hard for us. We looked like the Bad News Bears for the most part. But the things that made this program pretty good over the years has been our grit and determination, and we certainly showed that in the second half.”