Multifaceted Giants better than high-powered Reds again, win 3-0

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–Johnny Cueto left early, but the Giants’ bullpen made sure their veteran starter was covered late in their 3-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday.

The win capped a 5-1 homestand for the Giants, with their surprising relievers getting the better of the Reds’ high-powered offense in high leverage situations for the second, straight day.

Cueto pitched into the sixth inning, but motioned to catcher Curt Casali that he couldn’t continue after striking out Nick Castellanos. Prior to that moment, Cueto cruised, allowing three hits and no walks with four strikeouts. The 35-year old veteran was diagnosed with tightness in his lat, and examined after the game to determine if he’ll miss any starts.

“It felt like he was doing fine,” Casali said of Cueto. “He might have maybe tweaked something compensating for another part of his body. You never want to see that, especially when he’s cruising like that. Hopefully he doesn’t have to miss a start, and if he does, hopefully it’s not too, too long.”

“We all had visions in the dugout of that being another deep-into-the-game Johnny Cueto start,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He just looked outstanding and totally in control.”  

The Reds, however, saw more than enough of Cueto, who picked up the win, and shutdown the best offense in baseball through the season’s first two weeks in the process.

I’m confident that we’re not going to have too many games like that with our offense,” Reds manager David Bell said. “At the same time, you have to give credit to Johnny Cueto. We’ve all seen him for a long time. I thought he was outstanding.”

Austin Slater doubled home Brandon Crawford in the fifth inning, then took third on a passed ball. Casali’s sharply hit ground ball was fielded cleanly by Eugenio Suarez, but his throw to plate was too late to catch the sliding Slater.

In the eighth, the Giants added on with Maurice Dubon’s RBI single which was actually a catchable pop fly that bounced out of Jonathan India’s glove allowing Evan Longoria to score from second base.

The Reds homered twice in Monday’s series opener, and twice more in the first inning on Tuesday, but Giants’ pitching shut them down after that with the bullpen coming up big both days.

In the eighth, after Jonathan India drew a leadoff walk, Tyler Rogers induced a double play ground ball from Tyler Stephenson. And in the ninth, closer Jake McGee allowed a base hit to Joey Votto, but struck out Eugenio Suarez on three pitches to end it while picking up his Major League-leading sixth save.

The Giants travel back east on Thursday before opening a three-game series in Miami on Friday night. Anthony DeSclafani will start for the Giants, while the Marlins have yet to name a starter for the 4:10pm start.

Smash and Splash: Hard-hitting Reds make themselves at home in Oracle Park, win 3-0

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–The Massive Reds Hit Parade–2021’s answer to the Big Red Machine of the mid 70’s–had been rolling along for nearly two weeks, too short of a period to earn a snappier nickname, but long enough to insert sluggers Joey Votto and Jesse Winker into its powerful turbine engines.

But with worldly forces like COVID-19 and the common flu rearing themselves, Votto and Winker found themselves as passengers, not drivers of the formidable offense that leads MLB in batting average, runs scored, slugging percentage and RBI, while merely being tied for the lead in home runs with the Astros at 16.

That pecking order within the Reds machinery changed Monday night at Oracle Park as Winker and Votto hit their initial homers of the season in a 3-0 Cincinnati win. The surprising Reds have nine sluggers with at least one home run, and a total of 18 again only matched the Astros, who also connected twice on Monday.

When asked about the successful adjustments he’s made in his swing, Votto was nonplussed, while expressing disappointment to his season’s start, saying “the ball needs to go over the fence, the ball needs to go in the gap.”

Or into the Cove. Votto’s 400-foot drive off reliever Jarlin Garcia not only increased the Reds’ lead in the sixth, it allowed Votto to become the first Cincinnati slugger to take a ball into McCovey Cove, after 21 seasons of falling short.

Winker struck in the third, taking a slider over the center field wall, as Giants’ pitcher Aaron Sanchez in his Oracle Park debut, declined to turn and watch the ball’s flight.

Sanchez, who was facing the Reds for the first time in his career, didn’t let the Reds’ robust .279 batting average as a team increase, allowing just three hits, but he referenced falling behind in the count, just enough sin to get him beat when facing a dangerous lineup.

“I’ve got to, in a sense, go to them and give them something to hit,” Sanchez said of his encounter with Winker. “That’s what you saw, just a 3-1 pitch over the middle. Off the bat, I didn’t think it was a homer, and it ended up being a homer. It is what it is. It’s the big leagues. You’ve got to stay ahead and get ahead.”

Winker missed much of the Reds’ six-game win streak that ended on Saturday because of a bout with the flu. Votto missed two weeks this spring due to complications with a positive test for COVID. With both healthy, the Reds could continue to pressure the Cubs and Cardinals in the NL Central.

Meanwhile, the Giants continue in the search for a winning formula, after managing just two hits on the evening. Through 10 games, the Giants have pitched and defended at a high level, as well as hit home runs with 14 so far from seven power sources. But the team’s collective batting average of .192–which ranks 29th in MLB–won’t cut it.

“I think we’re the type of offense that sees a lot of pitches, gets pitchers on the ropes, gets big hits and produces big innings,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We haven’t seen that consistently from our offense this year, but I believe that’s in there with this group.”

The lack of offense Monday fueled veteran pitcher Wade Miley, who worked fast, experienced little resistance, and picked up the win. The 34-year old needed just 73 pitches to complete five innings, as he admitted his cut fastball was below average and vulnerable, but more than made up for it with changeups that induced seven swings and misses.

Tejay Antone followed with 3 2/3 innings of hitless relief in which he refused to give Giants hitters anything they could elevate. Antone appears poised to backup his 2020 rookie season in which he was among the rookie leaders in strikeouts and innings pitched.

The Giants have little time to regroup with Kevin Gausman set to face Cincinnati’s Luis Castillo on Tuesday.

A’s not letting early season struggles define them

By Morris Phillips

Among the encouraging things happening with the A’s the last couple of games?

Seth Brown may finally be ready to bring his big fly game to the Major League level.

The 28-year old is well-known in minor league circles as an unrepentant slugger, the author of 92 home runs since his debut in 2015, including 37 in just 112 games for AAA Las Vegas in 2019.

That last line had the A’s hopeful Brown could elevate his game in Oakland, but in his first 36 games with the A’s over the last three seasons, Brown didn’t clear any fences…

Until Saturday night. With the A’s 6-0 lead cut in half, Brown took reliever Ryan Stanek into the upper deck, a not-high-enough fastball turned into a memory of a lifetime. So majestic was Brown’s homer, the flight of the ball on television revealed the entire Minute Maid Park scoreboard showing Brown’s numbers without a home run for the last time.

“The only thing he doesn’t have on his resume is a homer for a guy who really is a home run hitter,” manager Bob Melvin said. “I know that takes a lot of pressure off him now that he finally has a home run.”

Pressure off Brown? More succinctly, pressure off the entire Oakland roster. Brown’s shot put the finishing touches on a 7-3 win, the A’s third in four games after an 0-6 start. Not wanting to get buried in the competitive AL West two weeks in, the A’s are fighting back, and giving their 2021 season a healthier look.

In the last four games, the A’s have out-manuvered the Dodgers late, come up with some more late game magic in Houston on Friday, and set up a couple of wins with nearly identical, exemplary starts by Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas.

The key? When you don’t fall behind early–as the A’s did repeatedly in their winless start–you can pick your spots and pounce on the opposition in the later innings.

“We grind it out a little bit and stay in the game until we do something nice late,” said Mark Olson, who came up big in Friday’s win. “I think we can take this momentum and ride it out.”

A few key presences must be reclaimed from the injury list with Chad Pinder (knee), Mike Fiers (hips), Burch Smith (strained groin) and A.J. Puk (strained biceps) on the 10-day injured list, and Trevor Rosenthal on the 60-day list after surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome on Thursday.

Matt Chapman and Sean Murphy remain mired in awful slumps, but both have expressed optimism in recent days–not just for themselves, but for the team as a whole.

We’re always rotating guys and new faces, so for us, it always takes a little bit to get going,” Chapman said. “But once we get going, we’re able to really bond and really pick up steam.”

The A’s open a two-game set with the Diamondbacks in Phoenix on Monday. Familiar face Madison Bumgarner squares off against Chris Bassitt in the opener at 6:40pm.

Giants smash three homers in hair-raising 3-2 win at San Diego

By Morris Phillips

The Giants didn’t impress anybody in Seattle with their late inning collapse on Thursday and eerily quiet bats on Saturday night.

But they did impress on Monday in San Diego.

Mike Yastrzemski, in a pinch-hitting role, broke a 2-2 tie with a home run in the seventh inning, propelling the Giants to a 3-2 win over the Padres at Petco Park. Yastrzemski’s big blow came after he was 1 for 13 against the Mariners, and told the local media he had no excuses for his substandard start to the season.

“I just stunk this weekend,” he said.

On Monday, Yaz was back in comfort zone: swinging a big bat, and characteristically saying as little as possible afterwards.

“We were gritty today, DeSclafani did great and we faced a good pitcher.” Yastrzemski told the NBC Sports Bay Area audience on the field after the game.

MLB.com’s Maria Guardado was able to get more out of Yastrzemski in a zoom session interview after the game, and the answers were revealing from one of the game’s more cerebral hitters.

“I was obviously hoping it was either a home run or a deep flyout,” Yastrzemski said. “It was kind of working into what I wanted to do mentally with my swing. I was getting beat a lot in Seattle and spinning off the ball. I just wanted to really stay through the middle of the field, and I just got a pitch that I could do it with.”

Yastrzemski’s home run off reliever Craig Stammen came on a 2-0 sinking fastball, and continued the slugger’s penchant for coming up with big hits in big spots, a trend that began in the COVID-truncated 2020 season. But Yaz wasn’t the only big bat for the Giants on Monday.

Darin Ruf homered in the second, and Evan Longoria homered in the fourth, his third round tripper in four games. All three blasts were solo shots and gave the Giants the lead each time.

Anthony DeSclafani made his San Francisco debut and held the Padres to one run on four hits in five innings of work. Even more significant was the team’s bullpen, working the final four frames while allowing a run on four hits as well.

Jake McGee picked up the save after walking Manny Machado and hitting Eric Hosmer with a pitch with two outs. Tommy Pham flew out with the two runners aboard to end it.

Padres star Fernando Tatis Jr. was injured while swinging at a pitch in the third. Tatis struck out and crumpled to the ground at home plate in obvious pain. He was diagnosed with a partially dislocated shoulder and could miss a month or more after signing a $340 million contract in the off-season.

Wondering how a 3-2 ballgame lasts 3 hours, 35 minutes in today’s baseball climate despite commissioner Rob Manfred’s insistence that games preceed at a faster pace? Here’s how.

Both teams started their fifth starter in their initial appearance of the season and both pitched deliberately. Between them, DeSclafani and San Diego’s Adrian Morejon started hitters with first pitch strikes on just 20 of 40 occasions. That led to a lot of deep counts, and lengthy at-bats as both pitchers were determined not to get hurt by lineups adept at extra-base hits and home runs. While both ultimately pitched well, they didn’t last long. Morejon, who had pitches hit as fast as 97 mph, allowed the first two Giants’ home runs, and was done after throwing 64 pitches in four innings.

DeSclafani threw 86 pitches in five innings of work, and had only one clean inning, the third, were he retired all three batters.

Both teams paraded relievers into the game after that–five on each side–and the common theme was yes, almost all pitched effectively, but they took their time. Matt Wisler, who found disaster in his previous appearance in Seattle, and McGee were particularly patient, mixing in balls and strikes at nearly an equal rate.

And that brings us to the main reason the game lasted so long: the Padres and Giants combined to throw 126 balls (with 184 strikes mixed in) and 314 pitches total. That’s a lot for a nine inning game, but reflective of how determined teams are of not letting lineups packed with power hitters hurt them. The Giants may be 2-2 and projected to finish third or worse in the NL West, but they can hit. Even at this early stage, and despite a Sunday afternoon off, the Giants lead MLB in homers with nine (tied with the Astros).

The Giants and Padres pick it up on Tuesday with Aaron Sanchez making his Giants debut in a matchup with Yu Darvish at 7:10 pm.

A’s fans humbled, and the A’s dismantled by the Astros in a season-opening sweep

By Morris Phillips

OAKLAND, CA–Season opening series observations from the Coliseum: pitchers ahead of hitters or hitters ahead of pitchers?

Well, more like Astros ahead of Athletics, and Houston hitters ahead of humorous, disgruntled A’s fans who had more than a year to prepare lugs to unload on their rivals and their cheating shenanigans.

The fans–especially that guy in Section 221–didn’t disappoint. Neither did the Astros.

“Castro Valley disowned yoouu!” Section 221 guy bellowed at Astros’ catcher Jason Castro.

And on the next pitch, Castro went opposite field off Sean Manaea for a 3-1 Astros’ lead.

The third inning, the same guy, his presence growing in a socially distanced crowd of fewer than 5,000, had Jose Altuve in his sights.

“Altuve! Show us your tattoo!” He shouted in reference to the shortstop’s equally humorous denial of wearing a wire signaling pitches during the 2019 playoffs. Altuve said he kept his teammates from ripping off his jersey in a game-ending celebration of a win over the Yankees to prevent revealing…a tattoo that was too ugly to be seen on national television.

But what was ugly on Sunday was Altuve’s response to the A’s and their fans. Two pitches after the tattoo reference, he ripped a double down the left field line. Later in that inning, with Manaea an out from escaping undamaged, Yuli Gurriel doubled into the right field gap to score Altuve and Yordan Alvarez.

And those exchanges encapsulated the weekend, the more the home fans yapped, the more the Astros slapped hits all over the place. In beating the A’s 9-2 and sweeping the four-game set, Houston never trailed and they had at least one base runner in 30 of the 36 innings. The A’s–truly an afterthought in a battle between the fans and the cheaters–came up empty on all fronts. They scored just nine runs, and 1-1 ties after the first inning on Friday and Sunday were as close as they got to being competitive. The Oakland bullpen was left so battered and bruised, outfielder Ka’ai Tom made his first major league pitching appearance in the ninth, a feat that comes before Tom’s first major league hit (0 for 6).

“We just crushed them from the first pitch to the last pitch of the whole series,” said Chas McCormick. “It was cool to watch, cool to be a part of.”

“We have to look at it as four games of 162,” manager Bob Melvin said. “We need to play with a little bit more urgency, we obviously have to play better. We got another tough team coming in, then we go there (Houston). We got to turn things around. It’s not just going to happen for us. We’ve got to play better baseball and this was not good baseball for us.”

“Altuve! You’re a cheater… and a bum… and you’re short!”

Injuries took a toll on the A’s as well with Sean Murphy suffering a wrist injury and missing the series final three games. Ramon Laureano played Thursday and Friday but injured his wrist sliding into a bag, which might have made Pete Rose famous, but is a move that isn’t endorsed by managers who prefer healthy players.

And on Sunday, Chad Pinder, already with a couple of slick catches to start his season, was forced to leave the game after a leaping catch at the wall left him dinged up. That incident happened four pitches into the ballgame, foreshadowing what would be a long Sunday afternoon for Oakland.

The A’s fell to 0-4, the first time they’ve started a season with four losses since 1987. Meanwhile, the Astros scored at least eight runs in each game of the series, becoming just the fourth team in Major League history to load all that offense into a season’s first four games.

It’s not often a team anticipates the arrival of the reigning World Champions for some relief, but that’s where the A’s are with the Dodgers arriving on Monday night. Frankie Montas will face the Dodgers’ Dustin May in the opener.

Cal rallies only to fall short in 61-58 loss to Colorado in the Pac-12 Tournament

By Morris Phillips

A year after the onset of COVID-19, and the abrupt departure of sporting events across America, the mindsets of the Cal Bears and Colorado Buffaloes heading into their Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal had similar themes.

A year ago, the youthful Bears ended their season with a win–against rival Stanford no less–and the Buffaloes were left with the sour taste of an upset loss to 11th-seeded Washington State.

Great memories for Cal, bad memories for Colorado, and the overwhelming unlikelihood that both teams would leave Las Vegas this year with the same emotions.

Colorado, despite an awful start–and bunch of resistance from Cal–held on to beat the Bears, 61-58 and advance to the tournament semifinals against USC on Friday night.

“You got to figure out a way to win when you don’t play
your best, we did that tonight, and we weren’t at our best,” CU coach Tad Boyle said. “And again Cal had a lot to do with that and I’ve got great respect for what Mark Fox is doing. They have had a rough year in terms of wins and losses, but, man, they have been in every game and tonight’s another example.”

“They didn’t give up and they made it hard on us.”

Remarkably, in the 23 years of the Pac-12 Tournament, only two 11th-seeded teams have managed to win games–Washington State last year against Colorado, and Cal in their opener on Wednesday also against Stanford. Given that, being 11th in the Pac-12 isn’t a harbinger for success, and it wasn’t again Thursday. After both teams waited an additional hour to hit the floor while USC and Utah battled through two overtimes, a sloppy game broke out. In the end, the Buffaloes’ defense reigned supreme, as they held Cal to 38 percent shooting and stopped leading scorer Matt Bradley dead in his tracks.

With Bradley shadowed by 6’3″ master defender Eli Parquet–along with a host of others providing double teams–Cal’s leader missed his first six shots as the Buffs built a double-digit lead with 11:41 remaining. Bradley would find some light down the stretch and finished with 10 points, but Colorado’s strategy was a success: take Bradley away, and force his teammates to respond, which never really happened.

“They trapped him on ball screens on the wings as well, and so we went to some isolations for him, and I thought that a couple times we didn’t come, on the pass out we didn’t come meet the ball,” coach Mark Fox said of the defense against Bradley. “I think that he finally got a little bit of rhythm in the second half. I probably played Matt… 38 minutes last night was a lot… and in hindsight I probably should have tried to save a couple minutes on him last night because I thought he looked a little fatigued today.”

“But I won’t be critical of our players. Execution in that situation wasn’t as clean as we wanted, but I thought our intent and our decision was the right way.”

Cal led for the game’s first 16 minutes after a 7-0 start to the game. But the Buffs missed good looks as often as Cal forced bad ones, best referenced by McKinley Wright IV’s poor start in which he missed six of his first seven shots. Once Jabari Walker converted a 3-point play, and 7’0″ Dallas Walton surprised everyone with a 3-point shot on the ensuing possession to put the Buffs up 20-16, they took control.

Cal trailed 61-52 with a 1:05 remaining, and then managed a desperation run in which Jalen Celestine scored six, quick points and Makale Foreman could have tied the game with a 3-point shot with five seconds to go. But Foreman ‘s shot bounced away and third-seeded Colorado survived.

“That’s his shot, he hits that shot all the time and when I see it I thought it was going to be good, obviously it didn’t go in but he shoots that shot all the time and that’s a shot that we like for him to take,” Grant Anticevich said of Foreman’s attempt to tie the game.

The Bears finish the season 9-20, their third 20-loss campaign in the last four years.

Bear Trap: Cal upsets Stanford at the Pac-12 Tournament again, wins 76-58

By Morris Phillips

At some point during Cal’s unprecedented 10-day break bridging the regular season and the Pac-12 Tournament, some teaching went on.

Coach Mark Fox, mindful of his team’s glaring defensive deficiencies, got demanding. Fox taught, the players learned, physicality was introduced, and at some point knowledge turned to belief for the conference’s lowest-seeded team.

“A teacher is only a good teacher if the students learn,” Fox said. “And obviously I did a terrible job of teaching our defense this year because it’s been awful. Tonight is what it should look like all the time.”

On Wednesday night in Las Vegas, Stanford found out first hand what had been learned in Berkeley. In a stunning reversal, Cal shut down the Cardinal on the interior, and answered two, lopsided losses to their rival with a wire-to-wire 76-58 upset win.

The 11th-seeded Bears (their lowest seeding ever in the Pac-12 Tournament) controlled the glass, didn’t get burned in the paint, then coupled that with a patient, and efficient offensive showing that was easily their best in a disjointed season that saw them lose 19 games. After Stanford ate Cal alive in the paint to the tune of 84 points combined in the two regular season meetings, the Bears muscled up and pushed back.

“We didn’t rebound it very well the early part of February, and slowly our rebound numbers have been improving,” Fox said of Cal’s 31-22 edge on the glass. “They bought into it, and I thought it carried over to the game today. We played very physical on the backboards today.”

Cal scored the game’s first six points and never looked back. They lead by as many as nine in the first half, and by six at the break. With Stanford showing some resolve, the Cardinal creeped to within one at 52-51 with 6:08 remaining. After Cal’s Joel Brown inexplicably missed a layup, Stanford gained possession looking for their first lead. But Matt Bradley blocked Lukas Kisunas’ shot and Ryan Betley freed himself for a 3-pointer at the other end. That started Cal’s 24-7 finishing run that saw them win going away.

“He’s known for doing that,” Andre Kelly said of Bradley’s rejection at the rim. “He’s an ultra competitor. He does that in practice all the time so it’s nothing special to me, but for you guys to see it is something cool.”

Bradley didn’t start in a move Fox declined to discuss. But the team’s leading scorer entered early and went on to lead Cal with 19 points, six assists and six rebounds. Kelly contributed 12 points, nine rebounds and Betley hit some timely daggers in a 13-point performance he squeezed into 16 minutes of floor time.

Jaden Delaire led the sixth-seeded Cardinal with 14 points, and Michael O’Connell and Oscar da Silva each had 12. Da Silva, the two-time, first team All Pac-12 performer suffered a leg injury previously and missed eight of his 12 shots. Ziaire Williams was unavailable due to a family matter in Los Angeles which means the Stanford freshman who is a presumed NBA lottery pick this summer may never face Cal as a collegian. Williams missed all three games this season between the schools.

This was only the fifth time the two Bay Area rivals have met in 23 conference tournaments, and the odds of them meeting in consecutive tournaments are less than 3 percent. Couple that with Cal’s win and last year’s 63-51 upset of Stanford, and the Bears truly grabbed a piece of rivalry history with the double play.

The Bears advance to a quarterfinal meeting with third-seeded Colorado on Thursday at 8pm.

Ducks harass mistake-prone Cal, win 73-64 in regular season finale

(photo from calbears.com)

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–The most bizarre–and challenging–regular season of Cal Bears basketball has come to a close. Unfortunately, there was nothing far out and strange about Saturday’s loss to Oregon at Haas Pavilion.

In fact, it was more of the same: Cal played hard, and played focused, but we’re simply outclassed by the Ducks in a 74-63 decision.

LJ Figueroa led Oregon with 20 points, 14 rebounds, and five steals as the Ducks scored the game’s first four points and led start to finish, and by as much as 19 points in the second half. Eugene Omoruyi had 21 points, and Chris Duarte, 17 for the Ducks, who have won seven of eight.

“He definitely was the difference in the game,” UO coach Dana Altman said of Figueroa. “His activity defensively, early boards, I thought he was really good. Thought he played his tail off and did some really good things.”

Figueroa did a little of everything, but his work as the point man in the Ducks’ aggressive zone kept Cal’s offense from finding any rhythm as referenced by their paltry total of 14 assists, with eight of those coming from the two guys Cal most needs to score, not facilitate, Matt Bradley and Grant Anticevich. When Figueroa wasn’t disrupting Cal’s attack, his steals led led to a decisive 27-11 edge for Oregon in points off turnovers.

“Those easy baskets they get really impact your defensive numbers,” coach Mark Fox said. “I thought our half court defense finally looked like it did a year ago, but the turnovers, the easy baskets were really the difference in the game.”

Fox admitted that the season began with his coaching staff concerned that their point guard play might be lacking, and as the season turned to conference play, Pac-12 opponents forced the issue on a nightly basis. The Bears saw the majority of their opponents build a wall at the 3-point circle and severely limit Cal’s dribble penetration leading to tough perimeter shots or turnovers. The Ducks, with the smallish, quick lineup may have been the best at it, as they again stopped Cal at the point of attack as they did in an easy win in Eugene in January.

Bradley was made to suffer the most, as Cal’s leading scorer finished with 12 points and four turnovers. Ryan Betley led Cal with 13 points and Andre Kelly added 12. The Bears trailed 34-27 at the break after shooting 39 percent from the floor. Their shooting improved to 52 percent in the second half, but they still fell behind 70-51 before an 8-0 run with three minutes left brought some respectability.

The Bears (8-19, 3-17) last place finish in the Pac-12 comes with an alarming distinction: among Power 5 conference schools (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC) only Boston College will finish the season with a lower power rating according to current Real Time RPI rankings. The Eagles, who fired coach Jim Christian mid-season on February 15, currently rank 261 out of 347, while Cal comes in at 246. What’s really disturbing is the company Cal keeps with them finishing far lower down the Division I ladder than the worst Power 5 teams typically finish with North Carolina A&T (11-10 in the MEAC) one spot ahead of Cal, and Manhattan (6-11 in the MAAC) one spot behind.

“It’s been a tough year to have a tough year,” Fox said of a season where his team has been isolated from other students, their campus environment and even themselves (only once did the team dine together in what was a socially distanced meal held outdoors) along with the mounting losses.

Fox is hoping that his team’s spirits will improve with fans and their parents present for the first time this season at the Pac-12 Tournament starting March 10. But even then, the players won’t be able to interact with their families due to COVID-19 protocols, limiting them to friendly waves and blown kisses from the arena floor into the stands.

And while several conference teams, including Oregon, play makeup games to cover for the season’s numerous postponements, the Bears must wait 12 days for the inevitability that they will at some point suffer their 20th and season-ending loss in Las Vegas.

Bears go cold after halftime and lose 59-57 to visiting Oregon State

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–The last time Oregon State won at Haas Pavilion before Thursday night, President Obama lent relevance to the occasion with a good-natured phone call of congratulations.

Flash forward 12 years, and this time, no one was present to feel the Bears’ pain.

After pulling within two points of a tie, Cal went the final 94 seconds scoreless in an aggravating 59-57 loss to OSU.

Roman Silva scored 13 of his 15 points after halftime, and Ethan Thompson added 12 as the Beavers broke a nine-game losing streak in Berkeley, and beat Cal for the third time in a season for the first time since 1989.

Cal made its first seven shots of the ballgame and led 14-2 only to see OSU seize control with a 9-0 run to start the second half. The Bears shot 28 percent after the break, and missed 10 of their 11 3-point attempts as Matt Bradley, who finished with 20 points (14 after halftime), became their only reliable option with the game on the line.

Still coach Mark Fox pointed to his Bears’ defensive liabilities which allowed OSU to enjoy 38 points in the paint and mask an 0 for 10 showing at the 3-point line.

“It’s the defensive possessions in the second half that were the difference in the game,” Fox said. “We did not defend to the level that you need to to win.”

In 2009, then OSU coach Craig Robinson called for a pivotal switch in the second half to a trapping, full court press that befuddled Cal in a 65-61 loss. After the game, Robinson–Michelle Obama’s brother–received a call of congratulations from brother-in-law Barack Obama from the White House. This time, the teams played in an empty gym as mandated by COVID protocols and the only cheers were the self-congratulatory ones emanating from the OSU bench as Cal committed turnovers on both of their final possessions.

“We do good in spurts and stuff like that, but I think if we can finish games strong and have success, we’ll be okay.” said Andre Kelly, who finished with 15 points but conceded that his defense was subpar.

The Bears (3-16, 8-18) assured a last place finish with Thursday’s loss and they will open the Pac-12 Tournament as the 11th seed on March 10 matched against the sixth-seed. Arizona will not participate in the conference tournament as part of their self-imposed penalties surrounding recruiting impropreties that resulted in the imprisonment of former assistant coach Book Richardson.

The Bears conclude their home schedule on Saturday night when Oregon visits. The Ducks defeated Stanford 71-68 at Maples Pavilion.

Ice Cold Cal comes up empty in 62-51 loss at Washington

By Morris Phillips

If awful shooting at Washington State didn’t get the job done, even worse marksmanship at Washington wasn’t going to cut it either.

Call it Cal’s easily forgotten weekend in the Northwest, one that almost assures that the Bears will finish the Pac-12 regular season in last place.

The Bears fell 62-51 to UW Saturday night, shooting a season-worst 27 percent from the floor, two nights after they shot 36 percent in a 31-point loss at Washington State. After fighting back to trail just 45-42 with 9:07 remaining, the Bears failed to make a basket over the game’s final eight minutes.

“When we got back initially, we didn’t have the poise to seize the moment,” coach Mark Fox said. “You can’t miss 10 or 11 free throws, the shots on the floor, and win on the road.”

Quade Green led the Huskies with 17 points, and Jamal Bey added 15 as the Huskies celebrated senior night with a pre-game ceremony and by welcoming fans into Hec Edmondson Pavilion for the first time this season. Governor Jay Inslee’s “Healthy Washington” edict just announced on Friday allowed 200 family members and friends of the UW program to provide a vocal presence at one of nation’s oldest on-campus arenas.

The Huskies (5-17, 4-13) had dropped four, consecutive home games. They also lost to Cal in Berkeley, 84-78 on February 9.

“Our defense was better tonight against them,” Washington coach Mike Hopkins said. “I thought there was some really good post defense. We did a good job on their 3-point shooters, knowing where they were, taking away their space.”

What Hopkins’ described in positive terms for his Huskies, was characterized more negatively by Fox. While the Bears’ coach liked his team’s movement on offense and play execution, the shots didn’t fall. Shaking up the starting lineup seemed to motivate Grant Anticevich and Andre Kelly, who came off the bench. But the play execution and motivational tactics couldn’t keep Cal in the game.

“I thought Andre really responded well, gave us a double-double,” Fox said. “I thought he answered the bell. I thought Grant was more active tonight.”

Matt Bradley led Cal again with 13 points, but he missed 13 of his 16 shots. Anticevich missed 11 of 15, Ryan Betley and Makale Foreman both missed four of five.

Joel Brown was a late scratch for Cal due to swelling in his Achilles.

The Bears were even at 10, but then they trailed 24-14. They would go on to trail for the game’s final 29 minutes, and by as much as 14 (42-28).

The ensuing 14-3 run for Cal was as good as it would get… all weekend.

The Bears (8-17, 3-15) return to Haas on Thursday to face Oregon State. They’ll see Oregon on Saturday. Both games start at 7pm.