By Morris Phillips
Early on, it appeared as if the Rocky Mountains and early tip times suited the Cal Bears just fine.
Andre Kelly set up shop near the basket and was enjoying a thriving business. Makale Foreman was Mr. Inside and Outside, and Jalen Celestine–in his most impactful minutes as a Bear to date–was making plays at both ends.
Three consecutive baskets by Foreman gave the Bears an 18-11 lead over host Colorado, who looked ill suited for the high noon start on a Thursday.
But that moment was as good as would get. Colorado coach Tad Boyle called a timeout, his Buffs responded with eight quick points to regain the lead, the Bears wobbled, and soon found themselves saddled with a 89-60 loss.
What transpired in that timeout? According to McKinley Wright IV, Colorado’s unquestioned leader and one of the best players in the Pac-12, Boyle implored his team to stop Foreman, who scored 10 of Cal’s first 18 points.
“We talked about it in the scouting report yesterday and talked about it today in pregame that when he is dribbling with his left hand he is a really good shooter,” Wright said of Foreman. “He made three in a row like that. Coach got on us about it and ever since then we didn’t look back.”
While the Buffs focused on the finer points of their scouting report, the Bears unraveled. Unable to buy a basket in a 23-2 Colorado run that closed the first half, then defensively as the Buffs scored 55 points in the second half, Cal was simply outclassed.
“We couldn’t get stops,” coach Mark Fox admitted. “Obviously, we’re disjointed offensively with the lineups we’re forced to play. That part is a little frustrating. But defensively, we just did not get the job done.”
Repeatedly, Colorado broke Cal utilizing a high screen that yielded clear paths to the basket, and plenty of time and space for spot up shooters.
Plenty of time.
Wright racked up 11 assists, breaking the school record for assists in a career in the process, and Colorado knocked down 12 3-pointers on 21 attempts. Their 59 percent shooting after halftime turned the game into a rout, with the Bears trailing by as many as 31 points.
The Bears again played without Matt Bradley, who joined his teammates on the trip, but missed his fifth, consecutive game. This time, Cal missed their leading scorer at both ends of the floor.
“He’s a physical presence defensively,” Fox said. “He’s a good rebounder. Obviously, he’s our leading scorer. Certainly we miss him.”
Four of Cal’s six conference losses have been by 11 points or more. Thursday’s 29-point margin was their worst outcome of the season.
Cal (6-8, 1-6) visits Utah on Saturday night. The Utes defeated Stanford 79-65 in a game that also got the Pac-12 matinee treatment.