By Morris Phillips
BERKELEY–The narrowest of Cal’s ten consecutive losses was going to be agonizing under any circumstances, but losing streaks unearth patterns, and the Bears showed their stripes in Saturday’s 68-64 loss to Washington State.
Missed shots, failed passes, empty offensive possessions continue to plague the Bears, whether they commit those errors repeatedly or sparingly, as was the case in a four-point loss to the Cougars that the hosts could have pushed to overtime with a timely bucket in the game’s final minute.
Instead–without the benefit of a timeout to gain composure–Joel Brown got to an advantageous spot on the floor, but missed a nine-footer that was awkwardly released.
Coach Mark Fox referenced the final three minutes, but his team’s 14 turnovers, 14 missed 3’s and 15 fouls–six more than WSU committed–took place over the entirety of the 40 minutes. The biggest of the those mistakes may have been a turnover at mid-court to start the second half, which prompted Fox to call a timeout just 13 seconds in.
“We got a little bit to casual, and that led to a turnover,” said Fox. “All of the little things matter.”
On Cal’s second possession of the half, Kuany Kuany backed down his defender with a lack of urgency, and without an advantage, and the 6’9″ forward was whistled for an offensive foul. In essence, Cal’s afternoon was short circuited in the first two offensive trips after halftime, not in the final minutes, as Fox claimed.
While the root cause of Cal’s defeat may be cause for debate, the reason the Cougars snatched the win was obvious. Washington State has undeniable, offensive acumen typified on Saturday by diminutive guard Michael Flowers.
Flowers, one of the most sought after players to emerge from the transfer portal in the off-season, put up 21 points, making his first, four 3-point attempts, along with four, consecutive made free throws in the game’s final 30 seconds. Early in the second half, Flowers attacked the basket with two Cal defenders waiting, and emerged with a nifty layup on an up-and-under move.
Coach Kyle Smith has turned diminutive guards with offensive talent into stars at Washington State and before that, at USF. He summed up Flower’s contributions while unconsciously hinting at what Cal currently lacks.
“That’s what good players do, they secure rebounds, and make free throws, put those games away, close them out,” Smith said.
The Cougs (14-7, 7-3) captured their first road sweep of Stanford and Cal since 1993. Efe Abogidi contributed 17 points, 11 rebounds and Tyrell Roberts added 12 points.
Cal got a career-best 20 points from Jalen Celestine, along with 16 points, four rebounds from Grant Anticevich in 36 minutes off the bench. Jordan Shepherd was the only Cal starter to score in double figures, but he was 5 for 18 from the floor for 10 points.
Kuany and Sam Alajiki went scoreless after their minutes were curtailed despite both being in the starting lineup.
The Bears (9-15, 2-11) get time to reset before traveling to Oregon for contests with the OSU Beavers on Thursday and Oregon on Saturday.