By Morris Phillips
BERKELEY, Calif. — Kareem South is just the type of player the Cal Bears need to get things turned around after two last place finishes in the Pac-12.
The Toronto native has size, smarts and a competitive streak that surfaces in tight ballgames. Not only that, South’s well-spoken after games–win or lose.
But the truth is the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi graduate transfer is here today, gone tomorrow, already 10 games into a Cal career that won’t last more than 35 games.
So, Wednesday’s meeting with visiting Fresno State was get it, or go without it for South. He chose get it, scoring 17 points and helping lead the Bears to a 69-63 win over the Bulldogs that had some tense moments late.
South did most of his scoring early with 15 of his 17 in the game’s first 30 minutes as the hot-shooting Bears led by three at the break, put couldn’t gain any separation from Fresno St. as the second half progressed.
South’s 3-pointer with 10:43 remaining put the Bears up 47-43, but they couldn’t pull away, establishing a pair of seven-point leads only to see the Bulldogs get within one, 59-58 with 3:38 left.
But the Bears responded with a 7-0 run that gave them their biggest lead if the night with 25 seconds remaining. Matt Bradley had four of his team-best 24 points in the closing stretch, sealing a nice bounce back for a team that had lost four of five, with all the losses on the road and by double-digits.
“Coach had certain aspects he wanted us to key in on, which was our defensive rebounding and playing sound and solid on the defensive end,” South said. “We also did a good job taking care of the ball and shot the ball pretty well.”
“We really locked in and got ourselves ready to play Fresno State, and I think tonight it showed We had a lot of confidence, and we were able to close it out during the last five minutes of play,” said Bradley, coming off losses at USF and Santa Clara that he personally was happy to put behind him. “I feel good about this win.”
When things got tight in the final minutes, the often stoic, coach Mark Fox implored the Haas Pavilion crowd to turn up the volume, sensing his x and o’s might not be enough against a credible Fresno State team.
“Our team is not battle-tested and they’re learning something new on both ends of the court,” Fox said. “We’re going to need our fans to stand up and break a sweat because this team has to overachieve.”
Fresno State lost for fifth straight game, the previous two in overtime. New Williams led the Bulldogs with 21 points, five rebounds, and Mustafa Lawrence added 16 off the bench.
The Bears next take the hardwood on Saturday hosting the St. Mary’s Gaels. The game starts at 7:30 p.m. as part of a doubleheader with the Cal women, who host Santa Clara in the opener at 4:30 p.m.