By Morris Phillips
SAN FRANCISCO–Travel-weary Boston College afforded the Cal Bears a fast start. The Bears in turn kept the door open, and allowed the Eagles a chance to creep back into the contest.
In the end, it wasn’t an even swap.
BC made the adjustments in their offensive attack, got nastier on the glass, and pulled out a much-needed 64-60 win over Cal at the Chase Center on Saturday. The meeting of struggling Power 5 conference teams went to the visitors from the East Coast and they couldn’t have been happier.
“In the second half, we played smarter,” Boston College coach Jim Christian said.
The Bears have dropped six of eight after a 4-0 start to the season. Christian and his Eagles won their fourth straight after losing five of six. Both teams craved a win, but Boston College kept the mistakes to a minimum down the stretch.
“I thought we were just settling for threes,” Christian said. “We were taking the first three available to start the game. We hit a couple early, which sometimes is a bad thing. In the second half we played really smart.”
Cal led by 12 early, then they went scoreless for the final seven minutes plus of the half, and saw their lead sliced to three at the break. They seemed to take control again leading 48-37 with 11:43 remaining. But their points in the paint, and transition opportunities slowed, and BC quietly creeped back in.
“You can’t play 34 or 36 minutes,” Coach Mark Fox admitted. “You have to play a great segment of quality minutes, and tonight we didn’t do that.”
Fox cited six missed free throws in the opening 20 minutes as a major factor in the loss. Those misses kept Cal from extending their double-digit lead, according to Fox, and that factored heavily into BC’s initial comeback.
Neither team accomplished anything of note from distance. Both teams missed eight of nine 3-point attempts before the half. Cal controlled the paint, getting strong, offensive games from Andre Kelly and Lars Thiemann. The 7’0″ center Thiemann enjoyed his best game in a Cal uniform eight points, nine rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench. But Cal’s turnover count mounted (11 of their 16 turnovers came after halftime) and their shot selection deteriorated.
“I should have made sure we finished this game out–as captain and one of our leaders. That didn’t happen tonight. Obviously, I’m frustrated with myself,” said Matt Bradley, who led the Bears 21 points, but missed six of his seven attempts from distance.
The Bears now turn their attention towards their final non-conference contest against Harvard on December 29. Cal is trying to avoid a third, consecutive last place finish in the Pac-12, and they’ve now become the first conference school to lose six times this season.
Meanwhile, the conference continues to trend upward despite the top three programs–Arizona, Washington and Oregon–all losing to highly-regarded Gonzaga. While Cal has six losses, seven other Pac-12 schools have lost just once or twice, including Stanford, who won the opening contest of the Al Attles Classic against San Diego 62-59. The Cardinal are 11-1, their best start to a season in a decade.
CHRISTIAN’S ROUGH WEEK: BC coach Jim Christian hobbled up and down his team’s sideline on crutches with a pained look on his face, the aftermath of ankle microfracture surgery he had on Monday in Boston.
Christian conceded the cross-country flight to San Francisco was painful. He anticipated the flight back also will be agonizing.
The former Cornell coach retained his sense of humor however when explaining what led to the surgery.
“I injured my ankle in a dunk contest,” he said.