By Morris Phillips
How do you characterize the two-game series between Cal and Arizona State this season?
Well, that’s easy. Both teams put forth their best effort, that is if they didn’t fall on their collective faces.
On January 2, the Bears growled menacingly from the start, leading by 18 at the half and winning by 24 as they shot 51 percent from the floor and passed the ball expertly leading to 17 assists.
On Thursday in the rematch in the desert, ASU was off and running, building a brief, double-digit lead in the first half, then burying Cal with a running and shooting barrage after halftime, resulting in an, easy 27-point win.
The common thread in both games was that while each team looked pretty darn good in their wins, they’ll likely beat themselves up remembering how out of character they were in getting blown out.
“As well as we played last Saturday, we played the opposite defensively today,” coach Mark Fox said. “We really collapsed on the defensive end in the second half.”
The Bears survived a rough first half in part by getting a pair of big baskets from Grant Anticevich before halftime to climb within six points of the Sun Devils. But all that effort to get back in the game disappeared after halftime. The Bears allowed ASU to make 18 of their 28 shot attempts, and couldn’t stop run outs or 3-point attempts.
“When you don’t score and they can fast break on every possession, you’re going to have a hard time getting your defense set,” Fox said.
Previously against Stanford in their 53-39 win, and on February 12 at Oregon in Cal’s last road game, a 78-64 win, the Bears played at a methodical pace, made shots when the game was in doubt, and defended as if they were constructing a fortress in front of the hoop.
Against ASU those same Cal Bears put up little resistance and showed hardly any resolve. With all the attention around the program this week and speculation regarding Fox and his now likely return for a fourth year at the helm, the effort and result looked completely out of place.
Furthermore, the Bears (12-18, 5-14) may not get another opportunity to better present themselves. Saturday’s regular season finale at No. 2 Arizona could be a particularly turbulent experience, and a conference tournament opener currently sees them matched up with either Washington or Washington State. Cal dropped both meetings with those two schools.
D.J. Horne was one of five Sun Devils (13-16, 9-10) to score at least 10 points and led the hosts with 13 points. Marreon Jackson and Jay Heath combined to miss 20 shots in the first meeting between the clubs, this time they contributed 11 and 12 points respectively. Arizona State has won 6 of their last 7 after losing 9 of 11.
“We knew what their game plan was going to be, they ranked last in pace of play,” ASU’s Kimani Lawrence said. “We got bigs and guys on the wings at different positions that can run, putting pressure on defense and getting on the fastbreak benefits our offense.”
Jalen Celestine led Cal with 11 points, and the sophomore was the only Bear to score more than 10 points.