A Point A Minute Won’t Keep You In It: Plodding Bears lose in Florida to TCU, 59-48

By Morris Phillips

If you’re 0-5, throw caution to the North Florida coast breeze and let it rip! What do you have to lose?

Well, if you’re the Cal Bears, it’s complicated.

Coach Mark Fox is without two experienced guards from a roster that lacks athleticism and quickness. Ballhandling and turnovers have been a major part of their winless start, as has defensive rebounding with smaller, quicker opponents extending possessions on the offensive glass.

Given all that, let it rip–given a Haas Pavilion type translation–really means dial it back. So take Fox at his word, when he says, “we created the style of game we wanted to create” after the Bears got up just 39 shot attempts and scored 48 points in a double-digit loss to TCU on Friday.

Know this: Fox has a real dilemma. His Bears are a work in progress, emphasis on “in progress” and the losses are mounting.

The quest for victory number one brought the Bears to Niceville, FL for Thanksgiving as part of the Emerald Coast Classic, a meeting of Power 5 teams looking to spread their wings. Being matched against the Horned Frogs, picked to finish fourth in the Big-12, undeniably the nation’s best conference this season, wasn’t ideal.

But TCU was without Damion Baugh, suspended through the remainder of November due to his decision to sign with an agent after last season in thinking that he was in the mix for the 2022 NBA draft. Not only that, Mike Miles Jr., the Frogs’ other high-scoring guard missed the previous two games with ankle and knee issues, which coincided with TCU’s one-point loss to Northwestern State.

No Baugh, no Miles? Cal might have hope.

Not the case.

Miles returned on Friday, scoring 23 points to led TCU to a 59-48 win. More concerning than Miles, who needed 22 shots to reach his point total, was Cal’s 19 turnovers and 14 offensive rebounds allowed, which Fox pointed to as the biggest factor in the loss.

Those two areas created a huge deficit for the Bears in possessions and shots taken. It also allowed TCU to cruise despite a horrible shooting night (19 for 39 from two, 3 for 17 from three, and 12 of 23 from the foul stripe).

The Bears kept pace early, trailing 17-16 after Joel Brown’s layup. But over the final 8:16 of the first half, Cal scored just five more points, placing an uphill climb in their way.

The Bears got consecutive 3-pointers from Kuany Kuany and Grant Newell to slice TCU’s biggest lead to eight at 46-38. But after a TCU timeout, Miles scored consecutive baskets to extend the lead to 12, and the Frogs weren’t threatened after that.

Newell, Monty Bowser and ND Okafor–Cal’s top three reserves–found the TCU defense especially limiting, likely due in part to the trio’s inexperience. They combined to miss eight of 11 shots in 51 minutes of floor time.

With Miles coming off the bench, TCU’s reserves outscored Cal’s 35-11.

“We got to get some more guys that can finish plays,” Fox admitted.

The Bears now face Clemson under daunting circumstances. After finishing their game near midnight, they’ll be back on the floor with the Tigers at 4:00 pm EST.

“We’re not absorbing the preparation quite like we want to right now anyway, so maybe a quick turnaround won’t impact us as much as it would if we were playing a little smarter,” Fox said.

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