By Morris Phillips
BERKELEY, CA–For the Cal Bears Thursday night everything went wrong, including the lead up. That included a week of practice that coach Mark Fox said was poor, a couple of players got injured, an uneven shootaround, then the start of the game against Washington State, in which the Bears found themselves doubled up, and trailing by 13.
Talk about making your opponent feel comfortable: in the game’s first 11 1/2 minutes, eight Cougars played, eight Cougars scored, and none took or needed more than three shots to get on the board. WSU led 26-13.
But as quickly as things went wrong, they went right: the Bears finished the half on a 25-5 run and never looked back. Cal’s first win in a month, on the critical occasion of the Pac-12 home opener, 73-66 over WSU, seemingly came out of nowhere.
“It took us a while to calm down, and also it took a while to get our defense to the level it needed to be,” Fox said. “And once we were able to stabilize we clawed out of the hole and played fairly stable the rest of the game.”
Matt Bradley led Cal with a career-best 26 points and 10 rebounds, including a three with less than a minute remaining, that increased Cal’s 69-66 lead to six points. Bradley had a different view of the week’s practices than did Fox, but no one could dispute that Cal’s offensive leader had struggled. Coming in Bradley had slumped, shooting just 38 percent from the field since December 1, and only 25 percent from three.
But against WSU, Bradley started early and finished the Cougars late, making 10 of 14 shots, and coming up with some smart decisions when faced with an array of double teams.
“These last couple of games have been pretty rough for me and my team,” Bradley said. “We’ve been trying to figure out here and there but we had a great week of practice. The only thing, we said, ‘stay competitive, stay fighting hard, and stay tough.'”
“It’s not all on him,” Fox said of Bradley. “But you love the fact that the guy who’s arguably one of your best players is taking that much responsibility.”
Paris Austin contributed a season-best 17 points for the Bears, and Grant Anticevich added 12. Cal played without Juhwan Harris-Dyson and Jacobi Gordon due to injuries.
Washington State was led by C.J. Elleby with 22 points, and Noah Williams who had 16. Elleby is the son of Bill Elleby, who was a scoring guard for the Bears in the 90’s. The Cougars flamed out after their fast start, turning the ball over 22 times, and allowing 32 points in the paint. The Bears shot 55 percent in the first half, and 51 percent for the game.
Washington State, coming off an impressive, come-from-behind, home win over UCLA faces Stanford on Saturday. The Bears host Washington, who were surprised by Stanford’s closing run in Thursday’s loss.