Standing Firm: Big charge call in final seconds allows Cal to slip past OSU, 69-67

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–The youthful Cal Bears and their coaching staff didn’t know what to expect. After two, last place finishes in the Pac-12, a coaching change, and a roster with as many additions as departures, they knew they probally weren’t going to be great, and that they didn’t want to be last-place bad.

Whatever their destination, the Bears are starting to take control of the process, one game at a time.

“You just get addicted to the next game,” coach Mark Fox said after his Bears surprised Oregon State in the last game, making the winning plays late in a 69-67 victory at Haas Pavilion on Saturday.

Hardly on a last place trajectory, the Bears are finding ways to win (at home). Beating OSU evened Cal’s conference record at 4-4, good enough for a sixth-place tie with UCLA.

“To come out of the week with a couple victories for this group is progress,” Fox said. “But we’re just going to try to win this next one and see how many we can tally up.”

In winning four of seven–after losing six of seven–the Bears have improved dramatically at the defensive end while getting more varied contributions on the offensive end. Clearly an incremental process, all seven of Cal’s most recent victories are by seven points or less, the last three by 3, 2 and 2.

And what normally constitutes last minute heroics doesn’t apply at Cal: the Stanford game swung on a blocking foul and two made Paris Austin free throws. On Saturday, leading scorer Matt Bradley drew a charging call on Tres Tinkle with seven seconds remaining with the Beavers trying to grab the lead.

Looking for a critical basket or a momentum-changing dunk? There wasn’t one. Instead Cal turned a close game by limiting Oregon State to six points over the final 5:04. For the game, OSU shot 19 of 52, and missed 15 of their 20 3-point attempts.

For Cal, Bradley got it done by picking his spots, both on the floor and during junctures of the ballgame, scoring a team-best 23 points. Andre Kelly hurt OSU with his activity on the offensive glass, adding 14 points, six rebounds. Grant Anticevich contributed eight points and 11 rebounds.

Neither team created much separation as the game featured 11 ties and 13 lead changes. Tinkle spearheaded an 8-0 run for the Beavers to close the first half, but OSU didn’t sustain that surge with 32 percent shooting after the break.

Cal travels to No. 20 Colorado on Thursday looking to win their first true, road game after five losses.

 

What’s New? Gaels are good, Bears are work in progress in St. Mary’s 89-77 win

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, Calif. — Aggressiveness, experience and nerve–the Saint Mary’s Gaels brought so much of those elements through the Caldecott Tunnel on Saturday night, they probably needed two team buses to transport it all.

The Cal Bears were left to experience all three, to their detriment in a 89-77 loss. In a December filled with hard lessons, the Bears fell to 6-5 with all five losses by double digits, this one the first of the five at Haas Pavilion.

St. Mary’s–on the cusp of the nation’s Top 25 with a 10-2 record, but coming off a loss to notable mid-major Dayton–shot 54 percent for the game and led by 19 at one point. The Gaels hurt the Bears from distance, hitting nine 3-pointers in the first half, and 10 of 15 for the game. Leaving shooters open has been an issue for the Bears in their streak of five losses in their previous six games, and that didn’t dissipate against the Gaels, who lead the nation in 3-point shooting percentage at better than 44 percent.

“I felt like we got off to a very good start and then we let some offensive struggles impact our defense in the last half of the first half against a very good offensive team and we obviously can’t do that,” coach Mark Fox said. “Saint Mary’s shot the ball extremely well as we knew they would and we didn’t do the job defensively to slow them down.”

The game featured a trio of outstanding, individual performances starting with St. Mary’s senior forward Malik Fitts, who scored 21 of his 28 points before halftime. With the Bears deploying Juhwan Harris-Dyson on Fitts in the second half, his scoring slowed, but Jordan Ford’s surged. The St. Mary’s guard scored 25 of his 32 points after halftime, including a three with 4:32 remaining that re-established the Gaels’ double-digit lead, 75-64.

“It’s kind of a pick-your-poison type of deal. One of us is probably going to have a good game, hopefully both of us,” Ford said of Fitts’ performance and his own.

Andre Kelly put up a career-high 26 points for Cal, 20 of those after halftime as the Bears found a way fight back offensively, if not defensively. Kelly had success against St. Mary’s bigger post players, Mathias Tass and Aaron Menzies, so much so that coach Randy Bennett elected to go with reserve Dan Fotu for a long stretch. But with the game in the latter stages, Kelly got the ball in the post and was tied up by Tass with the held ball situation giving the ball back to the Gaels. That prevented the Bears from reducing a 70-60 deficit with 6:01 remaining.

The series between the neighboring schools separated by 11 miles and the East Bay hills concluded for now after games in each of the last three seasons. St. Mary’s captured all three–by double digits–but Bennett concurred that the Bears were much improved over the last two seasons in his comments after the game.

When pressed, both coaches had interesting takes on what it would take to continue the series in the future.

“We would like to protect some of these Bay Area games, but I can’t protect them all,” Fox said, citing the Pac-12’s increasing league games from 18 to 20 starting next season, which takes two non-conference games away. “That’s mathematically going to be impossible if we still want to play other people and grow our program.”

“I think it’s a game that if they’re good and we’re good, it makes sense,” Bennett said. “If either one of us aren’t good, it probably doesn’t make sense.

The WCC agreed to reduce the number of their conference games from 18 to 16 for their 10 members, which in part is how Cal managed to see all three Bay Area members–USF, St. Mary’s and Santa Clara–in the previous, two weeks. Bennett, who has seen a soft strength of schedule prevent two of his previous teams from making NCAA tournament appearances, loves the new arrangement. In the first year of the increase in non-conference opportunities, the long time Gaels’ coach has scheduled Dayton, Utah State, Wisconsin and Arizona State, all opponents that will catch the eye of the tournament selection committee.

The Bears resume their schedule on Saturday at the Chase Center in San Francisco against ACC opponent Boston College. That game is part of a quadruple header that will feature Stanford and St. Mary’s as well.

Not Just the Shots: Cal beaten decisively at Fresno State, 95-73, as all goes south except their shooting

By Morris Phillips

On Wednesday, the Cal Bears had 28 made baskets on 49 percent shooting, and their opponent, host Fresno State had 29 made baskets on 51 percent shooting.

Sounds like a close game with both teams dialed in on the offensive end, right?

Hardly, the Bears did little right with exception of shooting the basketball, and were beaten start to finish by the Bulldogs, 95-73. As the game approached halftime, the Bears grew stagnant offensively, and Fresno State took off, leading by as many as 25 points in the second half.

“At the end of the first half is when we stopped sharing the ball and that’s where they made their run,” said Cal coach Wyking Jones. “It is concerning because that’s how we played at the beginning of the season. I would think that we would have learned at this point that we have to move the ball to be good.”

The Bears did little right outside of three, quality performances offensively from Justice Sueing, Paris Austin and Andre Kelly. Fresno State drove to the basket at will against Cal, leading to their stellar shooting numbers as well as a whopping 38 free throw attempts, of which they converted 29. The Bulldogs also enjoyed a healthy advantage on the glass (36-27) while getting at least two made 3-pointers from three, different guys in their starting lineup.

Fresno State stayed hot, winning for the sixth, consecutive time despite two weeks of inactivity for study and final exams.

“We had six guys in double-figures and I think we had a low turnover rate until the end, we got a little bit sloppy at the end,” first-year head coach Justin Hutson said. “Cal is a 40% 3-point team and to go 3-for-15 and 20% was a big difference for us tonight.”

The Bears’ offense never gained traction, even as Cal battled evenly with Fresno State approaching halftime. Justice Sueing’s layup with 3:31 remaining brought Cal within 34-31, but the Bulldogs finished the half on a 10-1 run to seize control.

Grant Anticevich replaced the concussed Connor Vanover in the Bears’ starting lineup, but suffered his second straight below par game, missing four of his five shots.

New Williams scored 19 points to led Fresno State, he was one of six Bulldogs to score in double digits, including all five starters.

Fresno’s 95 points was the team’s high for the season, although they had scored at least 90 three times previously.

The Bears return home Friday to face San Jose State at 7 pm at Haas Pavilion.

USF shoots past Cal, 79-60, beats Bears for the first time since 1997

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Photo of USF’s Frankie Ferrari courtesy of Eric Taylor/1st String Sports

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY — Losses of this magnitude don’t disappear from the consciousness easily. Normal losses linger, and this one was far from normal.

After the Dons’ 79-60 win at Haas Pavilion, the Cal Bears find themselves at the crossroads. At 2-6, they’ve had too many lopsided results, with Wednesday’s loss at home arguably their worst showing. The Dons led for 35 of the 40 minutes, and by as much as 29 before a late rally by the Bears in the game’s final minutes.

Haas Pavilion never warmed up, the crowd never got involved with the 10,000 seat building barely half full. And Coach Wyking Jones looked sullen postgame, claiming his team lacked competitiveness.

“We got beat by a veteran team that wanted it more than us,” Jones recounted. “It’s indicative of 14 offensive rebounds. They had more of a fight and Frankie [Ferrari] is a great point guard and did a great job of running the floor and leading the team. We are young and they are an experienced team and I saw that they [USF] wanted it more. I saw toughness.”

Under Jones, the Bears have lost 30 of their 40 games to date. The loss to USF was Cal’s fourth by double-digits at home to a non-conference opponent. Can Cal–with challenging non-conference opponents San Diego State and Fresno State to come, followed by Pac-12 competition–pull it together?

Of course, but more and more, it appears it will require a complete turn of fortunes. The first step: keeping a team together that’s having difficulties grasping and maintaining confidence.

“When you don’t see the ball go through the rim, the urgency to score builds. We start to panic a bit and that’s when you see silly fouls, not boxing out and losing focus,” Jones said. “We had some good looks that we would normally knock down, it just compounded on the defensive end and guys got more anxious to get a stop.”

Given, the Bears lack of size and physicality, offensive improvement will be easier to attain  than will defensive cohesion. But the Bears assist-to-turnover ratio must improve with the team having 82 turnovers and only 70 assists after 12 of each in Wednesday.

The Bears botched their final possession of the opening half, failing to get off a shot. Prior to that, a pass rolled through freshman Andre Kelly’s legs than out of bounds, another sailed over Justice Sueing’s head and ricocheted off the USF bench.

Meanwhile, USF looked confident, and built on their season start, at 8-1, their best in two decades. Moreover, the Dons showed little jet lag from a weekend in Ireland, where they narrowly suffered their first defeat, 85-81 to No. 21 Buffalo.

“I was curious to see how we were going to come out and start the game, and where our energy was going to be. We were coming back to play against a Pac-12 team,” said Charles Mindlend who paced the Dons with 17 points. “I was really happy with how we played.”

Center Jimbo Lull added 14 points, and sharpshooter Jordan Ratinho added 12 on four of nine shooting from three. The Dons enjoyed a 36-22 advantage with points in the paint.

Cal got 17 from Kelly, and 16 points from Darius McNeill. Last year’s leading scorer Sueing finished with four points. The sophmore forward has missed 44 of 68 shots taken this season.

Top reserve Juhwan Harris-Dyson played just two minutes before a previously diagnosed hand injury flared up.

The Bears welcome San Diego State to Haas Pavilion on Saturday for a 7:30 pm tipoff.

Cal Bears basketball podcast with Michael Duca: Freshmen Kelly and Bradley get the ball more often in helping Cal beat Santa Clara last Monday

photo from sfgate.com: Santa Clara forward Hendrik Jardersten (3) dunks the ball against Cal during the second half of Monday night’s game at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley 

On the Cal Bears basketball podcast with Miguel:

#1 A big welcome to Cal (2-3) freshmen Matt Bradley and Andre Kelly. Can they get better with Bradley and Kelly in the lineup?

#2 In the Bears’ 78-66 victory at Haas Pavilion Monday night, Darius McNeill told Bears head coach Wyking Jones to let him stay in the game. Turns out there was a method to the madness as McNeil was feeding Bradley and Kelly, who helped score some important points. 

#3 It was Bradley’s 13 points of the Bears 15 points in the final 6:33 of the game that pulled them away from the Santa Clara Broncos. 

#4 Jones said that it was the players trust in each other and passing the ball that made a difference in this one.

#5 The Bears’ tipoff against the St. Mary’s Gales (2-5) Saturday night in Moraga with the Gales on a slide. Can the Bears take advantage of the Gales with home court advantage?

Michael Duca does the Cal Bears basketball podcasts each Friday at http://www.sportsradioservice.com