Bedeviled in Berkeley: Arizona State sees their mastery of Cal end in a 74-50 defeat at Haas Pavilion

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Arizona State figured to be stuck in traffic dealing with the nationally-ranked Bruins and Trojans in Los Angeles this weekend. Instead, the Sun Devils surfaced in serene, socially distanced Haas Pavilion and got their forks handed to them in an very unceremonious manner by the Cal Bears.

Oh, the irony? Yes, the irony.

The suddenly ascendant Bears put together their best 40 minutes of basketball this season, and throttled ASU, 74-50, bringing an end to the Sun Devils’ seven-game win streak in the series between the schools.

“We did defend well, we did play very well on offense, and we did rebound it pretty well,” coach Mark Fox said. “So we did a lot a really good things and it’s a complete performance for us, but not as complete as it could have been. But you know what, our team competed well and I was really proud of them for that.”

Competitive? Complete performance? Suddenly the Bears–undefeated at home, and miraculously avoiding the pitfalls of COVID protocols–aren’t the club picked to finish last in the Pac-12. Instead they’re credible defensively, and meticulously prepared. Arizona State found out right away as Cal zoomed to a 41-23 halftime lead fueled by a 7-0 advantage in made 3-pointers. Fox hated that his Bears squandered some free throw opportunities early, missing five of their first seven, but the disparity beyond the arc was undeniable.

“It was the difference in the ballgame,” Fox said.

Cal suffered some hiccups in the first five minutes of the second half, but took off again after that, maintaining their big lead and unleashing some new weapons in the process.

Lars Thiemann, literally Cal’s biggest project, showed out by hanging near the rim and making himself available for easy shot attempts. The seven-footer routinely fumbled as many passes as he caught previously. But hard work has paid off. Fox spoke of the hours Thiemann has put in, not to mention the reminders the Cal coaching staff provided during breaks in Sunday’s game. Thiemann came up with all seven of his points in the second half, allowing Cal to ultimately pad their lead, while giving them a clear, size advantage on the smallish Sun Devils.

Sam Alajiki, who previously wowed the Bears coaching staff with his defensive presence, also contributed to the Bears’ hot stretch. Alajiki entered the game, and immediately canned a three, stretching Cal’s lead to 52-33 with 11:45 remaining.

The Bears were led by Jordan Shepherd with 16 points, Andre Kelly added 13, and Grant Anticevich had 10 points, 10 rebounds. Arizona State got 17 points from sophomore D.J. Horn, but no other ASU player tallied more than nine as their horrible 32 percent shooting from the floor doomed the visitors from the start.

“We know it’s not one guy who’s going to do it all for us,” Kelly said. “If one guy is not necessarily having his best night then we have a good deep team so a lot of people can step up and make good plays,” Kelly said. 

Cal shot 51 percent from the floor and outrebounded ASU 38-32. The Bears stayed undefeated at home, and improved to 9-5, 2-1 in the Pac-12 with the win. And now the Bears get their shot at the top ten Southern California schools both of whom have been impacted by COVID and will visit Berkeley during a compacted schedule of three games in five days.

“We need four times the number of people to show up,” Fox said while acknowledging the 2,974 fans that showed up Sunday, including the coach’s wife and daughter who were pressed into duty as staffers to aid the hastily arranged home game.

Cal hosts USC on Thursday at 8pm, and UCLA on Saturday at 5pm at Haas Pavilion.

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