By Morris Phillips
BERKELEY, Calif. — The growth process for any college basketball team revolves around dealing with prosperity or handling adversity.
But it’s rare that a team experiences both in the same ballgame. While facing UC Davis on Tuesday, the Cal Bears dealt with the extremes.
In a narrow 72-66 victory over the Aggies, the Bears shot the lights out in establishing an 18-point, first half lead only to go cold in the second half allowing UC Davis to briefly take the lead.
Coach Mark Fox took a philosophical approach to his team’s topsy turvy evening, by pointing to the Bears’ determined finish, allowing them to hold off the Aggies in the final minutes.
“I’m glad the game got to that point because it was important for us to play in a close game,” Fox said. “We got more out of the finish of that game than we would have if we had kept a double-figure lead the whole time.”
Fox is the lesson learning business these days in trying to get his young Bears to gather enough moxie to escape the Pac-12’s cellar after finishing last the previous two seasons. With the season seven games old, those lessons are coming quickly.
In the last seven days, Cal’s been buried by No. 1 Duke, outclassed by a physical Texas team, then pushed by the pesky Aggies.
Fifth-year senior Paris Austin knows the deal. With the score tied 54-54 with 5:33 remaining, Austin locked in. His seven points down the stretch helped Cal put UC Davis away.
“It’s about us as players needing to lock in,” Austin said. “In any game, there are times when other teams make runs and people can get discouraged; we just need to stay together, stay motivated, and play through it.”
Matt Bradley led Cal with 19 points, as he did most of his damage in the first half. Grant Anticevich contributed 14 points, and Kareem South added 13.
Ezra’s Manjon had 21 points for UC Davis, and Stefan Gonzales added 15, on five 3-pointers. Leading scorer Matt Neufeld missed seven of his 10 shot attempts and only grabbed two rebounds.
“Guys made plays, played with confidence and played within our system,” coach Jim Les said of his Aggies. “When we took the fight to them, good things happened.”
The Bears are off until next week for Thanksgiving. They’ll face USF in a rare, Bay Area road game on December 4.