By Morris Phillips
Truthfully, the 2018-19 Cal Bears basketball team is less experienced than the previous version that featured seven newcomers and landed in the Pac-12 basement a year ago.
You didn’t need a close-up observation to conclude that. Nor did most get one. The Bears opened their season with a ragged loss to Yale, 76-59 in Shanghai, China on Saturday afternoon, which was shown live in the U.S. on Friday night.
One statline immediately jumped off the page for Cal: they shot 20 percent from the field in the first half, registering just one assist.
“(Yale) found a very good rhythm in sharing the ball and running their plays all the way through. We have to do a better job of that,” coach Wyking Jones said. “We have to trust each other. We have to continue to trust each other more on the offensive end.”
The Bears led briefly, 9-8 with 10:24 remaining in the first half before the Bulldogs put the game away with a 15-0 run that came with leading scorer, Miye Oni, on the bench with two fouls. While Yale patiently ran their sets seeking favorable matchups to drive or shoot, the Bears failed to set each other up, instead settling for tough shots.
Cal started returning sophomores Justice Sueing and Darius McNeill, junior transfer point guard Paris Austin along with freshmen Matt Bradley and Andre Kelly. Missing was the experience, size and shot blocking ability provided by graduated seniors Marcus Lee and Kingsley Okoroh. With only two returning starters and Juwan Harris-Dyson unavailable due to a hand injury, Cal had few options stylistically.
Meanwhile, Yale, picked to finish third in the Ivy League, had Oni, more experience, and the continuity provided by coach James Jones heading the Bulldogs for the 20th, consecutive season.
“We did a good job defensively, getting stops, and rebounding. And then we were able to get in a good rhythm on offense,” said Jones, the Ivy League’s longest tenured coach.
Oni, limited to just 17 minutes on the floor due to fouls, still put up 16 points with three made 3-pointers. The 6’6″ junior guard shared high scoring honors for Yale with reserve Azar Swain.
Austin led Cal with 18 points, but managed just two assists. Leading returning scorer Sueing finished with 9, missing 11 of his 14 shot attempts.
NBA Hall of Fame inductee Yao Ming and Joseph Tsai, Yale graduate and Alibaba co-founder, sat together courtside at the annual Pac-12 international showcase held at the Baoshan Sports Center. The game concluded a week of touring and goodwill for players from both schools.