By Morris Phillips
BERKELEY, CA–Winning ugly has a new signature: the dagger three off the bank in the final seconds of overtime.
Cal’s Matt Bradley pulled off the feat in the Bears’ 61-58 win over Washington, and while he didn’t gush over his game-winning basket, coach Mark Fox did.
“It was a thing of beauty,” Fox said. “As hard as he’s worked and as much as he’s bought in, he deserved to have that thing go down.”
Bradley’s basket with seven seconds remaining brought an end to what had to be characterized as an ugly ballgame with both teams failing miserably at the offensive end.
Through the conclusion of regulation, the Huskies and Bears had just 98 combined points, 33 missed 3-point shots, with both teams shooting less than 37 percent from the floor. And Cal managed got to the line for a minuscule, four free throw attempts.
The Huskies had an excuse of sorts in the academic disqualification of point guard Quade Green. In Green’s place, 6’6″ Jamal Bey was promoted to the starting lineup with Oakland’s Elijah Hardy in reserve. When Coach Mike Hopkins looked at the halftime stats and saw his club had seven made baskets and five of those were from three, Hopkins sat Bey and inserted Hardy.
But things didn’t improve much: Washington followed their 20-point first half with 34 percent shooting in the second, including 11 misses on 13 3-point attempts.
Cal was faring much better but primarily due to a spirited defensive effort that neutralized Isaiah Stewart, Washington’s leading scorer, with double teams in the post. Cal’s Andre Kelly deserved most of the credit for stopping Stewart by helping and recovering with great zeal.
But Cal’s 28-20 halftime lead dissipated with nine misses in a ten-shot stretch midway through the second half that allowed the Huskies to climb even with 6:39 remaining. But that would be effectively as close as Washington would come to stealing one from behind. Despite their edge on the glass and some, representative defensive moments of their own, UW simply missed too many shots.
“We had to fight from behind, but I still felt when we went up two we could have made some plays, but we didn’t,” Hopkins said. “We’ve got to finish better. We have to finish games.”
In the final seconds of regulation, Nahziah Carter missed a trio of shots, as did Bradley and Grant Anticevich for Cal. Any of those shots would have forged a final minute lead, but none connected, and the game went to overtime.
In the extra session, Bey’s 3-pointer drew Washington even at 52 with 4:08 remaining. The significance? It would be the Huskies’ final made shot of the game, and their alternative plan to subsist on free throws and defensive rebounds would fall short.
That set the table for Bradley in the final seconds, and as implored by Fox in the previous timeout, the sophomore dribbled up to the top of the key and launched from straight away. The outstretched arm of 6’9″ Jaden Daniels caused Bradley to a quicker, higher release but the shot dropped off the bank setting off a celebration with seconds remaining.
The Bears (8-8, 2-1) have sought improvement in a lot of areas since their 4-0 start devolved into a December of losses, and finally that improvement has surfaced at the defensive end. Beating a talented Huskies team and holding them to a dreadful shooting percentage clearly ranks as Cal’s best win of the season to date.
“We’ve gotten a lot better focusing on defense, just knowing that if our shots aren’t falling we’ll win with defense,” Bradley said. “That kind of proved tonight.”
The Bears travel to Los Angeles this week for meetings with USC on Thursday and UCLA on Sunday afternoon.