By Morris Phillips
No, Alaska Airlines Arena wasn’t the place to find a pair of polished products on Wednesday night, but for either Washington or Cal, making a noticeable step in that direction was a reasonable goal.
Put together 40 minutes of cohesive basketball, find bursts of offense from a defensive-minded group, and beat a vulnerable opponent on the road?
Apparently, the Bears aren’t quite ready to do that just yet.
Washington rode a late, 15-0 run, largely fueled by referee whistles that didn’t favor Cal, to a 64-55 win, proving the hosts are closer to competency within the challenging Pac-12 landscape.
“Our defense wasn’t as good,” coach Mark Fox said of the decisive second half that saw Cal outscored 37-21. “We turned the ball over another eight times in the second half. And we couldn’t score.”
The Bears didn’t start well either. They missed eight of their first 12 shots, and committed seven turnovers in the first 12 minutes. The Huskies better navigated the early minutes with a balanced attack that only needed two points from leading scorer Terrell Brown Jr. A steal and breakaway dunk from Daejon Davis put UW up 21-13 at the 8:09 mark.
Cal was without starting point guard Joel Brown who was not with the team, and left back in Berkeley with an undisclosed illness. Jarred Hyder started in Brown’s place. Sparkplug Sam Alajiki returned after missing the previous, two games, and Kuany Kuany returned to the starting lineup after playing in reserve against UCLA. Fox called Kuany’s one-game demotion a teaching moment.
Aided by reserves Alajiki, Jared Celestine and Lars Thiemann, the Bears found their groove in the final minutes of the half. A 10-1 run gave them the lead, and they didn’t stop there. The visitors built a seven-point, halftime lead, and briefly led by nine to open the second half.
At that point Brown turned it up a notch, and brought the crowd’s energy with him. The Seattle native responded with 18 of his 21 points after the break, apparently the result of his coaches and teammates getting him in the right frame of mind during earlier timeouts.
“Everybody kept giving me confidence,” Brown said. “Coach Hop told me to play basketball. They’re going to junk it up, but you can junk it up too and find different areas to attack. It was just me playing free.”
Cal clung to a lead until eight minutes remained, but the 15-0 run wiped them out, leaving them in a 62-51 disadvantage with 3:37 left. Within the run, Kuany drew a flagrant foul call for having his arms horizontal, not vertical, after securing a rebound, but contacting P.J. Fuller’s face trying to avoid being stripped. That led to a pair of made free throws, and possession for Washington. They maxed that with Brown’s flashy spin and jumpshot that left Kuany flailing and the crowd howling with pleasure.
“His feet kind of just left him and I’m watching the ball go up in the air and I see it rolling around and I’m like, ‘that’s going in.'” Davis said of Brown and Kuany’s viral moment.
The Bears managed just one more made basket in the final minutes–from Shepherd with 16 seconds left–and never really made noise. The ending seemed surreal because the Bears disappeared so completely.
Cal attempted just five free throws, a season low, and leading scorer Andre Kelly took seven shots and was limited to four points.
“There were some guys in uncomfortable positions,” Fox said. “That’s the hand we’re dealt right now. We’re going to have to figure out how to play without a couple guys.”
Cal concludes their Northwest swing in Pullman against a talented, high-scoring Washington State team on Saturday at 1:00pm.